Okke Ornstein, a Panama-based journalist who runs the news website Bananama Republic, was arrested in relation to a 2012 criminal defamation conviction when he arrived at Panama City international airport on November 15, 2016, according to his lawyer, Manuel Succari.
Ornstein, a Dutch journalist, was convicted of criminal defamation on December 14, 2012, and sentenced to 20 months in prison after Monte Friesner, a Canadian, filed a complaint over a report by the journalist alleging that Friesner engaged in dubious business practices in Panama, according to news reports and court documents reviewed by CPJ.
Succari said an appeal was rejected in 2013. In 2015, the courts reissued an arrest warrant to keep the case active, although no attempt had been made to arrest Ornstein.
CPJ attempted to reach Friesner via Facebook messenger in November 2016 for comment, but did not immediately receive a response. Attempts by CPJ to reach the office of the public prosecutor in Panama for comment in late 2016 were unsuccessful.
The journalist’s family said that Ornstein, who also reports for Dutch outlets and is a stringer for Al-Jazeera, regularly traveled to and from Panama since the 2012 conviction and a separate conviction a year later, without being stopped.
Ornstein’s lawyer in the Netherlands, Channa Samkalden, told CPJ that Ornstein was convicted in the second criminal defamation case in 2013 and sentenced to 18 months in prison in relation to reports about the environmental and business practices of a company in Panama. As of December 1, 2016, following a series of court hearings, that prison sentence had been converted to a fine of US$3,500, and the journalist was held only on the 2012 conviction.
The business owners–Patricius Johannes Visser and Keren Visser–also filed a civil complaint in the Netherlands in December 2015, Samkalden said. Ornstein is appealing the default judgment in that case.
Ornstein’s website, Bananama Republic, was unavailable in late 2016. An August 15, 2016, post on its Facebook page said the website has been closed pending legal proceedings in the Netherlands.
“It is an extraordinary situation, given that Ornstein has been living in Panama without any problem since the convictions and has left and returned to the country on numerous occasions since then,” his lawyer, Samkaldensaid.
Kimberlyn David, Ornstein’s partner, told CPJ the journalist is “holding up really well, despite the fact the he knows it is a very challenging situation.” She said Ornstein has been in touch with the Dutch Embassy in Panama City.
As of late 2016, Ornstein was jailed in El Renacer prison, in the small city of Gamboa, outside of Panama City.