Panamanian president denies petition to allow expelled Spanish journalists to return to country

On Wednesday Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli denied a petition from a human rights organization to allow deported Spanish journalists accused of inciting protests to return to Panama, reported La Estrella.

Journalist Francisco Gómez Nadal and his wife Pilar Chato, also a journalist, were voluntarily deported Feb. 28 after Gómez was arrested for attending a demonstration as an "observer" for the human rights organizationHuman Rights Everywhere.

"I can't break the law. If he (Gómez Nadal) wants to return, the law has to change, because like it is, he can't return to the country," Martinelli said, as quoted by the news agency EFE.

The organization Human Rights Foundation (HRF) had sent a letter to the president asking for the immediate return of both journalists. The organization also published a report that concluded the journalists were expelled arbitrarily for exercising journalism that was critical of the government.

“The abuses committed by the Panamanian government against these two journalists and human rights defenders are unacceptable in a democracy,” said Thor Halvorssen, HRF president, adding that the president orchestrated a campaign to discredit the journalists, typical of an "anti-democratic propaganda machine."

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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.