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Freedom of Expression: UN Expert describes prison sentences for Panamanian journalists as a “worrying precedent”

GENEVA (28 October 2010)– The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, expressed his concern regarding the sentencing to prison of two Panamanian journalists, who had been absolved in the first instance, for slander and libel. According to the information received, they were also prohibited from carrying out activities related to their profession for a year.

“This judicial decision represents a worrying precedent for the efforts being made to decriminalize such incidents, especially in cases such as this, wherein the act which led to the punishment relates to information about the actions of public officials,” Mr. La Rue stressed.

Although the sentence was commuted to a fine, and faced with the possibility of a pardon being granted to the journalists for the same crime, the UN independent expert reiterated his position concerning the importance of the right of citizens to be fully informed about the activities of public officials.

“Despite the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights*”, said Mr. La Rue, “States frequently limit or restrict freedom of expression arbitrarily, even resorting to criminal laws or civil actions, in order to silence dissent or criticism”.

Frank La Rue was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in August 2008 by the UN Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any Government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. The UN first decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur to examine questions relevant to the right to freedom of opinion and expression in 1993. The mandate, since reviewed and extended in 2008, involves reporting annually to the Human Rights Council on issues related to freedom of opinion and expression.

The Special Rapporteur urged the State to take account of international instruments related to the exercise of this right, particularly the International Covenant.

(*): Check the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr-one.htm

Learn more about the mandate and activities of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, please visit: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/opinion/index.htm

OHCHR Country Page – Panama: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/LACRegion/Pages/PAIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Guillaume Pfeifflé (Tel: + 41 22 917 9384 / email: gpfeiffle@ohchr.org) or write to freedex@ohchr.org