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LatinNews Daily - 23 April 2021

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PANAMA: Police face renewed complaints

On 22 April Panama’s association of feminist lawyers (Afempa) denounced “alleged police and judicial abuse”.

Analysis:

Afempa’s accusations relate to arrest of three protesters, who were also fined, during demonstrations staged in the capital Panama City on 19 April against a recent supreme court (CSJ) ruling exonerating Arquesio Arias, a national legislator for the ruling Partido Revolucionario Democrático (PRD), of sexual misconduct charges. Afempa’s accusations will fan existing concerns about the PN following allegations of police abuse at the end of last year during demonstrations held to protest measures taken by the government of President Laurentino Cortizo in response to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. More generally, the high-profile case involving Arias and the CSJ ruling, which was announced on 16 April, has sparked outrage and reignited complaints regarding the weakness of the judiciary. These come as the private sector is calling on President Cortizo to make good on a key pledge – constitutional reform. He declared this a priority upon taking office in July 2019, in order to strengthen Panama’s institutions, but after his initial reform package was rejected in 2019, this has yet to be approved.

  • The three protesters were arrested for “altering the public order” while they took part in demonstrations. The CSJ began the case against Arias in August last year while a second case was opened against him in September, again based on charges of sexual misconduct.
  • In a press release yesterday Afempa said the three protesters had received what it described as “excessive fines” of between US$300 and US$1,000 for “exercising their right to protest…a right enshrined in the…constitution”. It said that it will file an appeal against these sanctions.
  • Indicative of ongoing concerns about the PN, a report presented on 21 April by the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), a US-based press advocacy group, highlighted “an increase in violence on the part of the national police against journalists during public protests”.

Looking Ahead: On 18 April Panama’s main private sector lobby, Cámara de Comercio, Industrias y Agricultura de Panamá (CCIAP) issued a statement calling for constitutional reform. Cortizo is under mounting pressure to address the weakness of Panama’s institutions – in particular to address what critics have described as a de facto ‘non-aggression pact’ between the legislature and judiciary as currently only the national assembly may initiate corruption investigations against CSJ judges and vice versa.