MIAMI, Florida (August 27, 2018)—The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today expressed concern that Panama's Judicial Branch could continue accepting legal actions against news media and reporters for giving journalistic coverage and making criticisms concerning matters or public interest that involve former president Ricardo Martinelli, accused of and put on trial for committing illegal acts.
IAPA President Gustavo Mohme, editor of the Peruvian newspaper La República, expressed his "confidence that the justice system will dismiss the abusive use of legal resources on the part of the former president and his family in order to avoid that there be inhibited criticism, as well as journalistic investigation and dissemination concerning matters of public interest that the people follow with great interest."
In reference to the principles on press freedom that are fostered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Mohme added that the legal or judicial pressures aimed at silencing journalistic work are inconsistent with the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, which also holds that public officials or those who are involved in matters of public interest should be subject to greater scrutiny by the press and the people.
The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Roberto Rock, of the Mexican news portal La Silla Rota, said that while the people have a right to resort to the justice system when they feel offended "in this case we are in the face of a clear maneuver to intimidate and silence public opinion."
Panama's Journalists Forum for Freedom of Expression and Information and the National Journalism Council came out jointly against the legal actions taken by the Martinelli family members with the objective that the court order media and journalists to abstain from publishing the names or surnames of the family group. They also have filed million-dollar lawsuits.
Last week Martinelli (president in 2009-2014) filed a criminal libel lawsuit against Annette Planells, spokesperson of the Independent Movement (Movin), and lawyer Mariela Ledezma for comments made in social media and in the radio program "Sal y Pimienta" (Salt and Pepper) which the two host, and he demands compensation for damages amounting to $2 million each. Martinelli was extradited on June 11 from the United States to Panama and remains in jail on charges of spying against opponents during his government.
Also, former Panamanian First Lady Marta Linares de Martinelli filed a lawsuit "of protection of family and family image" in which she asked the Family Court to order the newspaper La Prensa to cease and abstain from divulging and publishing facts or situations of a private nature against her family. Five La Prensa journalists were called to court. According to La Prensa the request to the court has its origin in news pieces in which there is mentioned the link of the former president and his children with the Odebrecht case which is being investigated by the Anti-Corruption and Public Information Special Public Prosecutor's Office.
Martinelli's legal representatives warned that there will continue the criminal charges against all who "speak badly" of the former president.
The IAPA is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 publications from throughout the Western Hemisphere and is based in Miami, Florida.