Reporters Without Borders called today on new Panamanian President Martin Torrijos to repeal all laws that still include prison terms for media offences.
"We urge you to remove these laws from the statute book within the next 100 days," it said in an appeal to Torrijos, who was sworn in today. "This means completing the constitutional reform project to drop article 33 concerning "insults" and repealing articles of the criminal code about defamation and tarnishing a person’s honour. These changes will highlight your commitment to press freedom," the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
"Outgoing President Mireya Moscoso’s pardoning last week of all journalists being sued for defamation shows the country’s leaders know such laws have no place in a democracy. We ask you to follow up her action by repealing the laws."
Article 33 of the national constitution allows public officials who consider they have been defamed to obtain a court order to imprison the offending person without trial. Articles 202 and 386 of the code of legal procedure and article 827 of the administrative code allow for imprisonment of between three days and two months, depending on the prominence of the politician or official involved.
The outgoing parliament passed a constitutional reform law on 27 July to repeal article 33 but to be valid it must also be approved by the new parliament which meets from 1 September.
Articles 173A, 175, 307 and 308 of the penal code provide up to two years in prison for defamation, insults or tarnishing the honour of a person or a state institution. There are no plans to drop these provisions.
On 27 August, President Moscoso pardoned more than 80 journalists being sued for defamation and thus risking imprisonment. Some of the cases dated back to the early 1990s