Over the past six months, freedom of the press has been threatened by actions by institutions belonging to the government of President Ricardo Martinelli, as well as from the Judicial Branch and the Prosecutors’ Office. On April 30, the Second Circuit Civil Court of the First Judicial Circuit of Panama issued a decision against La Prensa Corporation, S.A., requiring it to pay the amount of $300,000 in moral damages to Argentina Barrera Flores, a former prosecutor who worked for the General Prosecutors’ Office of the Nation and who had been removed by Prosecutor General Ana Matilde Gómez for the commission of supposed administrative faults, and then rehired after she brought suit challenging the resolution that removed her. The finding against La Prensa Corporation was based on a news story published about the plaintiff’s removal from her job. On May 8, the news photographer Mauricio Valenzuela, of the paper Panamá América, was attacked by a private security guard with the complicity of a sergeant in the National Police, while covering a dance at a convention center. A minute before, Valenzuela had taken a photograph inside the event of the Acting Prosecutor General of the Nation, Giuseppe Bonissi, and had crossed words with one of Bonissi’s bodyguards who had said, after reproaching him for taking photographs of his boss, “Today is the day that you are going to be arrested.” On July 26, while editing a story in an Internet Café, veteran journalist Carlos J. Núñez, 70, was arrested. The “Pele Police” test had just been applied to him, using an electronic device that contains police record data. It showed that he had a pending one-year sentence, issued by the Fourteenth Court, on a complaint of slander and libel brought in 1998, based on a report published in the old tabloid La Crónica. Núñez remained in detention for 19 days and was freed after paying a fine of $34. On July 6, Spanish journalist Paco Gómez Nadal, who writes a weekly column in the daily La Prensa, was held for four hours at Tocumen International Airport, when he was preparing to travel to Colombia. Gómez said that he was denied travel and informed that there was an order that prohibited him from entering the country, but that there was no explanation given on the reason for the order. He was held for a couple of hours until they returned his passport and, “without any explanation” allowed him to go, he said. In his opinion, there were political retaliations behind the measure for the columns he publishes critical of the government and for his activism in environmental causes. The National Migration Service, however, indicated that the order was due to tax problems, a version that Gómez Nadal denied. On July 7, photographer Mauricio Valenzuela was arrested and harassed by members of the National Police for the grave misdeed of having taken pictures of uniformed officers while on his way to cover a protest movement by workers who were involved in the expansion of the Panama Canal. In spite of having identified himself, he was handcuffed, put into a police vehicle, and taken to a police sub-station, where he was required to undress and was placed in a cell with other criminal prisoners. Valenzuela was detained for six and a half hours. The police accused him of having disrespected them. At a hearing a few days later in the internal affairs section in Veracruz, the photographer was given a $15-dollar fine for “altering public order.” President Ricardo Martinelli apologized for what happened, saying that the police would be sanctioned, but there have been no results or solid advances. In July, disturbances occurred in Changuinola, province of Bocas del Toro, related to protests by members of the banana workers union. News coverage on the disturbances became very difficult, and reporters from several media complained about obstruction on the part of the National Police. However, President Martinelli complained about the coverage, holding the media responsible for the events and inviting the owners of the primary television stations, print media, and radio stations to a breakfast, an event at which the media made very clear their role in a democracy. In August, based on the publication on the supposed carrying out of telephone taps at the edge of the law by the Prosecutor of the Administration, journalists Santiago Cumbrera of Panamá America and Álvaro Alvarado from a TV channel were subpoenaed to make statements to the Prosecutors’ Office. Both journalists gave depositions as supposed witnesses and the prosecutors tried to find out what their source of information had been. Both sought support in article 4 of Law 22 of June 29, 2005, which guarantees the right to protect information sources. The matter of decriminalization of slander and libel for high officials of the state, magistrates, judges, and election officials came up once again during this period. Some court decisions have favored decriminalization, following the spirit with which the measure was introduced in article 196 of the Penal Code. On September 17, the Acting General Prosecutor of the Nation, Giuseppe Bonissi, asked the Supreme Court of Justice to declare unconstitutional the second paragraph of article 196 of the Penal Code, which decriminalizes the crimes of slander and libel for high government officials. Bonissi was acting within the framework of an advisory of unconstitutionality presented for the purpose of widening the decriminalization to all workers, and not just high government officials and election personnel. On September 28, 2010, the Second Superior Court of Justice of the First Judicial District, sentenced the news director of TVN Channel 2, Sabrina Bacal, and journalist Justino González, who worked for the same station, to twelve months of prison, convertible into the equivalent in a fine at the rate of ten dollars a day, and a prohibition from exercising their profession for a period of one year starting on the date the fine is paid. This sentence hook the foundations of the national journalism community because both individuals had been absolved at the first level in two trials that had studied the criminal case, following up on the supposed commission of the crimes of slander and libel in detriment to public servants who work in the Department of Migration and Naturalization of the Ministry of Government and Justice. The trials had determined at the first level that the news report disseminated in September, 2005—which acknowledged the existence of an investigation for the supposed commission of crimes of corruption related to a network of human traffickers—had been based on official information from a National Police report; therefore, it was a reliable report based on official information. Nevertheless, none of the three magistrates of the Second Superior Court of Justice cited precedents from the Interamerican Court of Human Rights, nor doctrine of the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights, concerning reliable reports, when revoking the findings of absolution. This is fundamental, because since the reform of the Penal Code in 2007, which eliminated the old article 175 that penalized those who commit slander or libel, the doctrine of the reliable report has been tacitly incorporated into national law. The finding for conviction by the Second Superior Court of Justice also applied article 2079 of the Judicial Code, which had been incorporated into Panamanian law in December, 1986, that is to say, at the height of the military dictatorship under the command of then General Manuel Antonio Noriega. This legal provision states that in support of the presumption of innocence, one who disseminates information on the identification of, or characteristics that would facilitate identification of, a person who is being investigated, and who permits association with the respective investigation, commits the crime of slander. On October 6, the President of the Republic announced the he would use his presidential powers to pardon journalists Bacal and González. “The conviction is an independent decision of the Judicial Branch, which I respect, but I believe it could send mistaken messages, nationally and internationally, about the solidity of our democracy,” assured the President. On October 12 a group of lawyers and social communicators presented a proposal for a bill to Office of Citizen Participation of the National Assembly. The bill seeks to completely decriminalize slander and libel for public servants, and at the same time limit the obligation to withhold the identities of those being investigated for the supposed commission of a crime, as contained in the aforementioned article 2079 of Judicial Code. It applies to employees of the Prosecutors’ Office, the Justice Department, and the National Police. Failure to observe this obligation would be sanctioned administratively and not through the exotic characterization as slander. On October 14, another conviction was made known. It was handed down by the Second Superior Court of Justice against journalist Rafael Antonio Ruiz for a story published in El Siglo in 2005. The report gave account of an investigation for money laundering against a member of the security team of then president Martín Torrijos Espino. Ruiz was sentenced to five hundred days of incarceration commutable by the payment of a fine. On October 16, a journalist with La Prensa, José Otero, was detained by agents of the National Police while with his family on a vacation trip to the Atlantic coast of Panama. Otero was held for three hours because in the “Pele Police” device there appeared a pending case for slander from 2001, in which he had been completely cleared. Otero was released after intervention by high government authorities. There is fear of a renewal of pending cases against journalists as a result of the declaration of unconstitutionality made by the Supreme Court of Justice in December, 2008 concerning the decrees of pardon issued by then President Mireya Moscoso in August, 2004, just days before leaving office. In those declarations, she had granted a large number of pardons to journalists and social communicators who had been convicted or who were then in the process of prosecution for crimes against honor, the great majority of them brought by public servants. The State Secretariat of Communication continues centralizing official communications, although some official sources continue to maintain direct contact with the press. Restrictions are still in force that prevent print media from participating in radio or television stations, through Law 24 of 1999, which reorganized the legal framework that regulates radio and television services. The law says in its first article that it aims to promote and protect investment and free competition and the quality of licensees; however, it imposed a limit on print media by prohibiting them from purchasing, managing, or operating radio or television stations in the Republic of Panama. It establishes that no radio or television station “may be controlled, directly or indirectly, by a national-circulation newspaper.”