Report to the IAPA Midyear Meeting
March 29 to 31
Cartagena, Colombia
In this period there has continued the practice of the use of lawsuits against journalists and news media as a means of harassment and to generate self-censorship.

There remains in effect Article 195 of the Penal Code categorizing libel and slander when committed through news media, and although it has remained non-punishable when it is a matter of the "alleged victim" being an official with national authority and jurisdiction, it remains in force for individuals, the rest of officials and former officials. In addition to the decriminalization of these offenses press organizations declare that there should be established limits to the number of civil lawsuits.

In a positive aspect and following a Televisión Nacional TVN lawsuit the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the closed season for publication of opinion polls during the electoral process, which prohibited news media from disseminating them during 20 calendar days before the elections. The ruling dates from December 2018 and was not until February, two months before the elections, that it was made public. The Electoral Tribunal reduced the closed season to 48 hours prior to the elections.

On January 2, when the president was due to give his report before the Legislature, the grounds of the National Assembly were surrounded by hurricane-proof netting, preventing the entry of journalists and media.

In January journalist Ligia Arreaga was arrested and held for 24 hours at the orders of Judge Ulzana Valdez Jurado, during an attempt to give coverage to an event in Chiriquí province. On refusing to hand over her photographic equipment she was handcuffed.

On March 17 in the Capira community journalist Mauricio Valenzuela of the online platform Claramente was physically attacked and some of his equipment was destroyed during coverage of an electoral event.

Remembering that we are in the middle of an electoral process, the independent movement MOVIN placed several fences, promoting non-reelection. The Electoral Tribunal considered that these actions violated the electoral rules and removed the fences, thus giving rise to a controversy over freedom of expression.

There continues pending debate in the National Assembly on bill No. 665 "On Protection of Personal Information" that includes measures to prevent cyber crime. The Panamanian Institute of Law and New Technologies (Ipandetec) urged the authorities to not approve regulations that would put at risk human rights and freedoms.

There has not advanced discussion of the bill for a Law on Cyber Crime proposed by the Public Ministry, in which there were noted several rules that would affect the practice of journalism and the free use of sources.

There has continued the use of legal proceedings against journalists and media as a means of harassment and search for creating self-censorship, specially on the part of former president Ricardo Martinelli, who is under arrest and subject to legal actions in which he is accused of unlawful monitoring during his time in government.

In representation of the former president lawyers Alma Cortés and Alejandro Pérez have filed legal complaints about notes, editorials and op-ed articles. Recently they filed lawsuits against the authors of two op-ed articles published in El Siglo and La Estrella de Panamá, one by citizen Mariano Mena and the other by journalist Alberto Velásquez. The lawsuits have not been ascribed to the columnists, but there have been included the directors and all the editors of both newspapers. One of the lawsuits seeks to claim the sum of $20 million. However, on March 29, Martinelli's lawyers have submitted a waiver in relation to the editors and managers.

There continues pending the trial of journalists Mariela Ledezma and Annette Planells, charged by Martinelli. The amount claimed for alleged moral harm amounts to $2 million.

La Prensa and Mi Diario, both Corprensa property, are continuing to face 13 civil lawsuits, 11 criminal ones, in the family court and one in the electoral court, calling for $60.1 million. During the last year there was ordered the provisional archiving of criminal proceedings and of 26 criminal lawsuits filed by members of the Cambio Democrático party.

The Public Ministry continues holding investigations titled "New Business" based on information sent by the House of Deputies, inquiries that have to do with the form of acquisition of the EPASA group by its current owners. EPASA considers that these investigations seek to intimidate the newspapers Panamá-América and Crítica, due to the information related to cases of corruption that they have published. The investigations have been going on for more than a year and a half – they were announced in June 2017 – but the results are unknown, which affects the normal functioning of the media.

There continues pending in the Latin American Parliament (Parlatino), headquartered in Panama, a bill submitted by Ecuadorean Congressman Octavio Villacreces that seeks to enact a Communications Framework Law for the country members of the Parlatino "on the right to free access to communication" and to establish mechanisms of control on the part of the government in order "to monitor, warn and promote" concerning news media contents.