As an anti-corruption conference gets underway today in Panama, the International and European Federation of Journalists (IFJ and EFJ) have sent a letter to the country’s President urging him to release Dutch journalist Okke Ornstein.
On 15 November, Ornstein was arrested on his arrival at Panama's international airport and charged with slander and libel in connection with articles he published on his website about the alleged fraudulent commercial activity of a Canadian citizen, Monte Friesner, who is currently facing criminal proceedings in Panama.
The journalist faces a prison term of 38 months and he has not received his rights to adequate legal assistance, according to his lawyer.
The IFJ and the EFJ joined their affiliate in the Netherlands, the Dutch Association of Journalists (NVJ) in opposing the sentence and in urging the President of the Republic of Panama, Mr. Juan Carlos Varela Rodríguez, to intervene to secure his immediate release.
Both Federations made clear in the letter that they are resolutely opposed to the use of prison sentences for alleged cases of defamation, as in Ornstein's situation. Criminal defamation is outlawed in most parts of the world. In the worst cases, a civil suit or a fine is the appropriate means to seek to achieve reparation.
“We stand by our colleagues from NVJ and we ask for the 38-month sentence journalist Okke Ornstein is facing to be immediately dropped,” said IFJ President, Philippe Leruth. “Journalists should be able to investigate freely and to inform civil society about all kind of crimes, including fraud and corruption, so that these criminals face the full force of the law. It should be them being detained and not the messenger being punished”.
The IFJ and EFJ joined the efforts of the NVJ, which is currently working with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Dutch embassy in Panama to release Ornstein as a matter of urgency.
For more information, please contact IFJ on + 32 2 235 22 16
The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries