22 August 2005


IAPA concerned about multi-million-dollar lawsuit, proposed seizure of journalist's salary

Incident details

Jean Marcel Chéry, Gustavo Aparacio

legal action

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(IAPA/IFEX) - The following is a 19 August 2005 IAPA press release:

IAPA concerned at multi-million-dollar lawsuit, proposed seizure of journalist's salary in Panama

MIAMI, Florida (August 19, 2005) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) expressed concern today at a multi-million-dollar lawsuit filed against the newspaper Panamá América and the proposed confiscation of the salary of a journalist working for La Prensa, saying such actions "could be intended to intimidate the press" in Panama.

The civil libel suit for $2 million in damages was filed by Supreme Court Justice Winston Spadafora, who also is seeking confiscation of salaries, amounting to $18,753, of reporter Jean Marcel Chéry, now with La Prensa.

On March 8, 2001, Chéry, working for Panamá América at the time, and Gustavo Aparacio wrote a report in that paper in which they questioned the construction, using public monies, of a highway that led to - and appeared to benefit almost exclusively - property owned by two government officials. They were Spadafora, who at that time was Interior and Justice Minister, and Alvin Weeden, General Comptroller.

Following publication of the report, Spadafora filed suit alleging criminal libel by the two reporters, who were found guilty in August 2003 and sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment, later commuted to payment of a fine. On ending her term of office, President Mireya Moscoso pardoned the two. Spadafora is now proceeding with a civil suit.

The chairman of IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Gonzalo Marroquín, declared that "it is clear that these actions could have the intent of intimidating the newspaper and the reporters, or at least seeking to bring about self-censorship."

He added that there were many points of concern for the IAPA in these legal proceedings, given that the fundamental role of the press appeared to be misunderstood. "The accuracy of the information was never called into question, nor that the reporters might have acted with malice," Marroquín said. "They were merely doing their duty to report on an irregularity committed by public officials, a case of notable public interest."

"We regret actions of this kind, which send a negative message to all the news media and journalists in Panama," added Marroquín, editor of the Guatemala City newspaper Prensa Libre, recalling that with the repeal of gag laws in Panama last month "we had thought that the country had reached maturity in terms of freedom of the press."


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