Bill in Panamá seen restricting press

The Inter American Press Association has sent a message to Panama’s president, Juan Carlos Varela, in which it expressed its concern at a draft legislative bill that it says contains serious restrictions of freedom of expression and of the press.

The note sent to Varela refers to the draft bill “which would regulate the professional career of a journalist and a news photographer in Panamá” submitted to the lower house of the National Assembly July 29.

Among other measures the bill would make it obligatory for journalists to belong to a press association and be professional and would punish with imprisonment those who practice journalism without professional accreditation, rulings that were overthrown in 2005.

On this matter, in the letter signed by association President Gustavo Mohme, editor of the Lima, Perú, newspaper La República, and Claudio Paolillo, chairman of the association’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information and editor of the Montevideo, Uruguay, weekly Búsqueda, there is cited the 1985 Consultative Opinion of the Inter-American Human Rights Court on obligatory membership of a journalists association which resulted in the repeal for being unconstitutional of those laws in Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic and created a trend favorable for freedom of expression in the Americas.

After expressing satisfaction at statements made by Panama’s Presidency Minister Álvaro Alemán concerning the fact that the government “has no interest in reviving legal instruments that were used to censor and restrict the freedoms of Panamanians” the press association executives asked President Varela to discourage this initiative and any other that would restrict freedom of expression and of the press.

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