13 December 2001


Journalist threatened with imprisonment

Incident details

Luis Gaitán Villareal


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(RSF/IFEX) - In a letter to President Mireya Moscoso, RSF protested the detention order against Luis Gaitán Villareal, correspondent for the daily "El Siglo" and the National Television (Televisora Nacional, TVN) station, issued by Evelia Apricio de Esquivel, mayor of David (eastern Panama) for "defamation". "The detention is based on the Judicial Code, which authorises imprisonment without a trial for defamation," stated RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard. The organisation asked the president to use her influence in order to have this judgment revoked. RSF believes that the journalist's punishment is "fitting of a dictatorial regime." Moreover, RSF asked for the repeal of "defamation laws".

According to information gathered by RSF, on 5 December 2001, David Mayor Apricio de Esquivel ordered that journalist Gaitán Villareal be detained for forty-eight hours because he allegedly disrespected her. According to Judicial Code Article 386, "public officials can use fines or detention to punish … those people who disobey or disrespect them". The mayor accused the journalist of insulting her and leaving a municipal council meeting against her orders. On 6 December, Gaitán Villareal was briefly detained and then released after the Chiriquí district sixth court judge accepted his appeal, ruling that the mayor did not provide proof of the journalist's criticisms. Articles recently published in "El Siglo" have been critical of David Mayor's administration.

In Panama, "defamation laws" allow certain state representatives to order the imprisonment of a journalist without trial, for disrespecting their post. The penalty can range from three days in prison for defamation of a civil servant to two months for defamation of the president. The editor of "El Siglo", Carlos Singares, was sentenced to eight days' imprisonment at the end of July 2001 by order of Attorney General José Antonio Sossa, who accused the daily of reporting a lawyer's allegations that Sossa committed acts of pedophilia (see IFEX alerts of 27, 21 and 7 July, 30 and 26 June and 31 May 2000).

During a visit to Panama in July 2000, Santiago Canton, the Organisation of American States' (OAS) special rapporteur on freedom of expression, stated that the imprisonment of journalists "without trial" violated the American Convention on Human Rights.


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