Panama: Release Dutch journalist and abolish criminal defamation charges

Issued by Transparency International Secretariat



Translations: ES


Logos for IPI, Transparency International and Article 19

The Panamanian authorities should immediately release Dutch investigative journalist Okke Ornstein and abolish the crime of criminal defamation, Transparency International, the International Press Institute (IPI) and ARTICLE 19 said today.

Ornstein is facing a 20 month prison sentence for reporting on corruption through his blog.

 “Journalists must be allowed to do their jobs freely,” Cobus de Swardt, External Managing Director of Transparency International, said. “Corruption is by its nature secret. Journalists play an important role in showing that the corrupt cannot get away with their crimes. It’s no time to be incarcerating the messengers.”

IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi added that it was “appalling” that Panamanian authorities had imprisoned a journalist for exposing alleged corruption “just weeks before an important gathering of global anti-corruption experts and activists is set to take place there.”

She continued: “IPI’s extensive research on the use of criminal defamation laws around the world provides clear evidence that these laws often serve as convenient tools for prominent figures to quash critical media coverage, hide embarrassing or uncomfortable information, and silence investigations into financial, ethical and professional wrongdoing – all of which is extremely damaging and counter to the public interest.”

The charge of criminal defamation acts to deter journalists and leads to self- censorship, particularly on issues like fraud and corruption.

International bodies such as the OSCE, UNESCO and the UN Human Rights Committee have long expressed concerns over the use of criminal defamation laws to silence dissent. In many countries, these laws are subject to abuse by powerful actors – including government officials, civil servants or prominent businesspeople.

Prosecuting defamation under criminal rather than civil law leads to disproportionally harsh sanctions including hefty fines, suspensions on journalists’ ability to practice their profession, and in some cases, prison sentences.

“This case is a clear example of the abuse of criminal defamation laws to target those reporting on corruption and protect governments and powerful actors from accountability. Laws criminalising defamation must be repealed in order to protect the rights of journalists exposing this information,” said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

From 1-4 December journalists from all over the world will come together in Panama City for the 17th International Anti-Corruption Conference, which will highlight the importance of investigative journalism in the fight against corruption and present awards to journalists whose work has exposed corruption.

The International Anti-Corruption Conference will also host the annual Colpin Latin American Investigative Journalism Conference. The Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS), which co-sponsors the Latin American Investigative Journalism Award with Transparency International, will announce the 2016 winners at the event.

ARTICLE 19 is a London-based human rights organisation defending the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of information through our offices around the world.

IPI’s research into the effects of defamation laws on journalism is available here.

Transparency International is the global anti-corruption movement with more than 100 chapters around the world.

 

Editor's note: This release was amended on 28 November to reflect the conviction of Ornstein not simply his detention.


For any press enquiries please contact

Transparency International
E: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
T: +49 30 34 38 20 666

International Press Institute
E: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
T: +43 1 512 90 11

Article 19
E: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
T: +44 (0) 20 3290 9308

Latest

Support Transparency International

Delia Ferreira Rubio elected Chair of Transparency International

At Transparency International’s Annual Membership meeting on 15 October, Delia Ferreira Rubio was elected chair and Rueben Lifuka was elected as vice-chair, along with seven new board members.

How to keep desperately needed humanitarian aid out of the hands of the corrupt

Around the globe, tens of millions of people need humanitarian assistance from governments, humanitarian aid agencies, and the UN, but even when lives are at stake and people at their most vulnerable, corruption and other abuses are not uncommon.

How the IMF can have real impact on fighting corruption

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is meeting in Washington DC this week. We want to send a strong message about what the multi-lateral lender can do to have greater impact on fighting corruption.

The impact of the Azerbaijani Laundromat

Since the story of the Azerbaijani Laundromat broke, Transparency International has been following up on the allegations and, along with OCCRP, calling for action to hold to account the politicians, businesses and intermediaries who were named in this complex money-for-influence scandal.

Corrupción en ascenso en América Latina y el Caribe

Conversamos con más de 22.000 personas en 20 países en América Latina y el Caribe sobre corrupción. Tomando en cuenta el tamaño estimado de la población de estos países, eso significa que alrededor de 90 millones de personas pagaron sobornos.

Corruption on the rise in Latin America and the Caribbean

Transparency International asked more than 22,000 people in Latin America and the Caribbean about corruption in their daily lives. The survey also looks at how institutions are perceived and how corruption has been developing in each country.

Sustainable Development Goals turn two: time to ensure justice for all

September 25, 2017 marks the two-year anniversary of the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals. Transparency International highlights the need for governments to set meaningful targets for success.

Social Media

Follow us on Social Media

Would you like to know more?

Sign up to stay informed about corruption news and our work around the world