Reporters Without Borders said today it was concerned that Victor Ramos, a cartoonist for the Panamanian daily La Prensa, faced up to two years in jail for "damaging the reputation" of former President Ernesto Pérez Balladares.
"It is outrageous that someone who draws a cartoon can be sent to prison," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to Panamanian chief justice Adan Arnulfo Arjona, urging him to ensure the case against Ramos was dropped.
He said he was "shocked" by the charge of "damage to reputation," which could be interpreted subjectively and arbitrarily." He pointed out that criminalising what journalists said was an attack on the free flow of information guaranteed under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Panama has ratified.
Ramos is due to appear in court on June 7 to answer the charge, which arose from a cartoon published last April 11 criticising Balladares for incompetence while in power.
Another of La Prensa’s cartoonists, Julio Enrique Briceño, has been sued since last year for "harming the reputation" of former Christian Democratic Party chief Ricardo Arias Calderón in a cartoon published in December 2000.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression said in January 2000 that imprisonment for peacefully expressing an opinion was a clear and serious violation of a person’s human rights. Article 11 of the declaration of principles on freedom of expression adopted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights says laws that punish insulting an official are an attack on freedom of expression.