Panamanian journalists walked out from their newsrooms Wednesday to demand that authorities put an end to persecution, harassment and economic attacks in the form of lawsuits filed by officials and politicians unhappy with coverage of their actions.
Editors, television presenters and reporters gathered in Porras Park, in downtown Panama City, where they were joined by attorneys and journalism professors and students, who view these economic attacks as a new threat to democracy and freedom of expression.
Guadalupe Castillero, a Next TV news anchor accused of defamation by a top police official, attended the demonstration after having appeared at a civil court to be notified about the $2 million lawsuit.
Castillero said she was confident that she would win the case and that "nobody will then tell us what we can or cannot ask."
Other lawsuits have been filed by Marta Linares, wife of disgraced former President Ricardo Martinelli, against several journalists from the La Prensa daily, while opposition lawmaker Carlos Afu filed a $20 million suit against the newspaper.
Miliciades Ortiz, a professor who has trained many generations of Panamanian journalists, said that this type of harassment was "another way to attack freedom of expression, though this time they have gone against people's pocketbooks."
Ortiz said that the new way to intimidate journalists has been by means of "these lawsuits that are for such absurd quantities of money that they are almost comical."
"As citizens, we must defend freedom of the press and freedom of expression," constitutional lawyer Ernesto Cedeño told EFE.