New York, June 30, 2010—A 70-year-old Panamanian journalist arrested and jailed Saturday on a 2008 defamation conviction should be immediately released, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
The charges against Carlos Núñez López, at left, stemmed from a 2005 story in the now-defunct weekly newspaper La Crónica about environmental damage in the province of Bocas del Toro, his lawyer, Luis Ferreyra, told CPJ. A landowner alleged his reputation had been damaged by the article, the local press said.
Núñez was first sentenced to one year in jail in December
2006, according to Ferreyra. A court of appeals upheld his conviction in August
2008 but Núñez was not notified of this by his lawyers, Ferreyra said. He added
that Núñez has exhausted all legal remedies in Panama. Ferreyra has requested that
his client serve his sentence outside prison due to his age.
Local police arrested Nuñez while routinely checking IDs on
Saturday at an Internet café in Panama
City, Aurelia Marín, president of the Panama
Journalists Association, told CPJ. The journalist is currently imprisoned at
the Department of Judicial Inquiries.
Nuñez has worked for different local media outlets,
including the newspapers Crítica and La Crónica, Marín said. He currently writes
for the news website Estudio 1.
“We condemn the decision to jail Carlos Núñez López on
defamation charges,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior Americas program coordinator. “This
verdict should be voided, Núñez should be released, and Panama’s
legislature must eliminate all criminal penalties for defamation.”
Panama has partially
decriminalized defamation: Under Article 192 of the Panamanian penal code,
which came into effect in May 2008, libel and slander are not subject to penal
sanctions in the case of public officials.
There is growing international consensus that journalists
should not be jailed for criminal defamation. In November 2009, the Argentine
criminal defamation provisions in its penal code, and in April 2009, Brazil’s
Supreme Federal Tribunal annulled
the 1967 Press Law, which had imposed harsh penalties for libel and slander.