IAPA Denounces Abuse of Lawsuits Against Media and Journalists in Panama


Miami (February 14, 2023) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) denounced the continued abuse of defamation lawsuits against Panamanian media and journalists and the preventive seizure of their assets as mechanisms of intimidation and gagging to curb critical journalism.

The IAPA endorsed the recent expressions of its regional vice-presidency in Panama, the National Council of Journalists (CNP), the Forum of Journalists, and the Panamanian Broadcasting Association, regarding the legal harassment against journalist Mauricio Valenzuela of the site Foco, and analyst Annette Planells, of the Independent Movement (Movin). However, on February 8, without yet being convicted, Judge Ana Isabel Terán, of the Sixth Civil Court of the First Judicial Circuit of Panama, ordered the seizure of their assets and properties following a lawsuit for slander and libel filed by former President Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014).

The Panamanian judicial system allows a plaintiff to request the seizure of the defendant's assets at the beginning of the lawsuit process. In 2020, the courts ordered the seizure of the assets of the newspaper La Prensa following a lawsuit filed by former president Ernesto Pérez Balladares (1994-1999).

The IAPA Chapultepec Index 2021-2022 points out that the Attorney General's Office of Panama statistics reveal "586 open files for crimes against honor. Of these, 81 involve the media." Furthermore, in the civil jurisdiction, "40 cases against media workers and companies are being processed, with lawsuits exceeding 13 million dollars in claims."

IAPA President Michael Greenspon reiterated that "judicial harassment in Panama continues to be the main threat to press freedom." Greenspon, global director of Licensing and Print Innovation of The New York Times, United States, deplored "the abuse of lawsuits as an instrument to intimidate and discourage critical media and journalists" and remarked that "this is a vastly frequent and growing recourse in several countries of the Americas."

The chairman of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Carlos Jornet, editor of La Voz del Interior of Argentina, added: "These lawsuits with million-dollar compensations intend to discourage journalism from continuing to investigate and uncover acts of corruption."

The IAPA has been successful in many countries in promoting for decades the decriminalization of defamation lawsuits against public officials and on issues of general interest. It also urges that, in the case of civil lawsuits, judges should establish proportionality in compensation so that exorbitant economic claims do not hinder journalism and press freedom.

In last semester's press freedom reports, the IAPA recorded cases of judicial harassment in Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, the United States, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Peru, with lawsuits for defamation, accusations of corruption, money laundering and blocking of information due to violations of sovereignty and national security.

The Chapultepec Index is an annual barometer that measures institutional actions that affect press freedom and freedom of expression in 22 countries of the Americas. The measurement is based on the principles of the IAPA declarations of Chapultepec and Salta.

IAPA is a non-profit organization dedicated to defending and promoting freedom of the press and expression in the Americas. It comprises more than 1,300 publications from the western hemisphere; and is based in Miami, Florida, United States.