Journalist forced to submit to questioning in criminal defamation case

New York, March 24, 2003—Roberto Eisenmann Jr., founder of the Panama City­based daily La Prensa, was forced today to submit to questioning about a criminal defamation suit filed against him in January.

This morning, at around 10:30 a.m., officers from the Technical Judicial Police came to Eisenmann’s offices in Panama’s capital, Panama City, and took the journalist to the prosecutor’s office for questioning in a criminal defamation suit filed against Eisenmann by Attorney General José Antonio Sossa. The charges stem from a January 30 column in La Prensa in which Eisenmann accused Sossa of “protecting criminals and filing charges against journalists.”

Panamanian authorities first summoned Eisenmann, who now leads a nonprofit organization, for questioning in the first week of February. On February 15, the prosecutor issued an order barring Eisenmann from leaving the country. After the prosecutor summoned the journalist three times and he refused to answer any questions, Eisenmann was declared in contempt.

After answering the questions this morning, Eisnemann was freed but remains barred from leaving the country.

In Panama, a country known for its restrictive press laws, almost half the media’s work force have criminal libel or slander cases pending against them. Public officials filed the suits in 70 percent of those cases.

“Journalists should never be criminally charged for reporting critically on the conduct of public officials,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper.