12 August 2003


Two journalists handed one-year prison sentences for "insulting" former interior minister

Incident details

Marcel Chéry, Gustavo Aparicio



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(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has protested the one-year prison sentences, commutable to a fine of US$600, handed to journalists Marcel Chéry and Gustavo Aparicio, of the daily "El Panamá América", on 7 August 2003 for a 2001 report that allegedly "insulted" then interior and justice minister Winston Spadafora.

In a letter to Supreme Court President Adán Arnulfo Arjona, RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard said no prison sentence should be imposed when the case comes before an appeals court. "Prison sentences for press offences should be done away with altogether because they force journalists to practice self-censorship," Ménard said.

He pointed out that the United Nations special rapporteur for the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression established in January 2000 that the imposition of a prison sentence for the peaceful expression of an opinion constitutes "a serious human rights violation."

The 2001 report by Chéry and Aparicio concerned the use of a social investment fund (the Fondo de Inversión Social) in the building of a road to Iturralde, 40 kilometres west of the capital. The journalists said the road led almost exclusively to a private property owned by Spadafora, who is now a Supreme Court judge.

The newspaper's editor, Octavio Amat, said the two reporters had not accused Spadafora of any crime and had limited themselves to noting that the road only led to his property. Spadafora maintained that the report was "inaccurate" and was "an affront to [his] honour and dignity."

During the trial, the journalists questioned the independence of the presiding judge, Secundino Mendieta, on the grounds that Spadafora is now his superior in the judicial hierarchy.


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