Panamanian court's decision to order a newspaper to pay $25,000 in compensation to a judge generates protests

The Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court of Panama rejected an appeal filed by two journalists and an editorial group against an earlier decision concerning a civil lawsuit filed by a former Supreme Court justice, according to La Prensa.

The court ordered Editora Panamá América (known as Epasa), the editorial group which owns newspaper Panamá América, and journalists Jean Marcel Chéry and Gustavo Aparicio to pay USD $25,000 for moral damages to former Supreme Court justice and former minister of government and justice Winston Spadafora.

The case concerns a 2001 article in which the journalists alleged that resources from the former Social Investment Fund was used to upgrade a road in the La Arenosa community.  “Said road, according to the journalists, gave access to a private estate owned by former judge Spadafora,” according to Panamá América.

Representatives from multiple journalist and freedom of the press associations in Panama have spoken against the ruling.

“It seems that in this country we live in the world of the absurd. There is an insistence on restricting freedom of expression in any way,” said Guillermo Antonio Ñito Adames, president of the Forum of Journalists for Freedoms of Expression, according to La Prensa. “This is a case involving an official, and they must understand that they are expose to scrutiny, not only from journalists, but also from citizens.”

Claudio Paolillo, chairman of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, said the case should “be submitted to bodies of the System of Protection of Human Rights” since all legal processes in Panama have been exhausted, according to an IAPA press release.  The organization specifically mentioned submitting the case “to inter-American bodies.”

Paolillo said the ruling is “a terrible precedent for press freedom in setting conditions for investigative journalism work” and that it encourages self-censorship.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.