Reporters Without Borders is appalled that a Panama City court has banned TVN Canal 2 news editor Sabrina Bacal and Justino González, a former TVN Canal 2 reporter who is now a KW Continente commentator, from working as journalists for one year as well as fining them 6,000 dollars.
Issued on appeal on 27 September and announced on 4 October, the sentences replaced the two-year jail sentences that the court had initially envisaged imposing under the criminal code’s provisions for such cases of defamation.
The bans are the result of defamation suit brought by former National Directorate of Immigration secretary Aida Cecilia Castro Diaz and legal representative Rosendo Rivera over a September 2005 TVN Canal 2 report about a National Security Council investigation into the suspected involvement of immigration officials in a prostitution ring. Bacal and González were originally acquitted.
“We think this ruling is both absurd and dangerous,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Banning these two journalists from practicing their profession is a flagrant violation of the freedom to impart information and is tantamount to an act of censorship that is unworthy of a democracy. Its effect is to prolong the existing regime of sanctions for press offences.”
The press freedom organisation added: “Panama’s laws continue to provide for prison sentences for defamation and insult, contrary to the general tendency in the western hemisphere and to Inter-American legal standards. We hope the supreme court will overturn this conviction and we will support Bacal and González if they decide to take this case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.”
Despite an outcry about the case, local press reports quoted President Ricardo Martinelli as saying he would not comment on the sentences as they were a matter that “concerns the judicial sector.”
Reporters Without Borders has been told that a presidential pardon is being considered for the two journalists. But a pardon would mean they are still regarded as guilty and would not address the underlying issues.