UN rights expert voices concern over prison term for Panamanian journalists

28 October 2010The United Nations independent expert on the right to the freedom of opinion and expression today voiced concern over a prison sentence for two Panamanian journalists, who had earlier been acquitted on charges of slander and libel. UN Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue said in a statement that, according to available information, the two journalists were also prohibited from carrying out activities related to their profession for one 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 prison term was later commuted to a fine and there was the possibility of a pardon, the expert reiterated his position on 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, States frequently limit or restrict freedom of expression arbitrarily, even resorting to criminal laws or civil actions, in order to silence dissent or criticism,” he stated.He urged Panama to take account of international instruments related to the exercise of the right to the freedom of opinion and expression.

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