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Panama9 February 2007

Press freedom threatened by law reform

Reporters Without Borders has urged parliament not to back criminal law reform which passed its first reading on 7 February, three articles of which pose a very serious threat to freedom of expression and the press.

The worldwide press freedom organisation also wondered what prompted this development, when the tendency in most of the American continent has been towards decriminalisation of press offences.

“This criminal law reform represents a real step backwards in press freedom in a country where it has been widely respected,” the organisation said. “The three articles relating to freedom to inform destroy the capacity of the press to play its role in challenging the government. They are also draconian in that they provide for penalties of from two to five years in prison. This legislative reform is therefore dangerous and completely out of place, within a general context of decriminalisation of press offences,” Reporters Without Borders said.

Six of the seven deputies on the government commission of the Panamanian legislative assembly on 7 February 2007 passed on first reading reform of the 449 articles of the criminal law, three of which - 187, 189 and 422 - restrict the freedom to publish and provide for heavy prison sentences. The three articles were thus worded following the commission’s approval:

Article 187: “Anyone legally in possession of mail, recordings or documents not intended for publication, even if addressed to them personally, who publishes them without the required permission, will be punished, if publication causes harm, to a sentence of one to two years in prison, or its equivalent in daily fines, or a detention at weekend. Disclosure of documents essential to the understanding of history, science and the arts will not be considered to be an offence. The case will be closed in the case of forgiveness on the part of the complainant.”

Article 189: “Whoever uses, amends, reproduces, copies or alters, partially or fully, to the detriment of a third party, his image and his restricted access personal details, or those of his family members, entered on registers or files or entered in computer, electronic or telematic data bases, will be punished with a prison sentence of two to four years. If this content or information is divulged, revealed or given to a third party, or published by this third party, the penalty will be from two to five years in prison. If the information is official, the sentence will be increased by one third.”

Article 422: “Whoever reveals information in the political, diplomatic or police domain, involving state security, will be punished with a prison sentence of two to four years in prison.”



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