July 6, 2010

Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal
Presidente de la República de Panamá
Palacio Presidencial, Panamá 1, Republica de Panamá
Fax: +507 527 9034
Giuseppe A. Bonissi C., Procurador General (temporary) and Ana Matilde Gómez Ruiloba, Procuradora General
Procuraduría General de la Nación
Avenida Peru Y Calle 33, Panama
Fax: + 507 507 3413
Minister of Government and Justice, Panama
Sra. Roxana Méndez
Ministra de Gobierno y Justicia
Apartado 1628, Panamá 1, Republica de Panamá
Fax: +507 512 6001

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,400 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our concern over the arrest and detention of journalist Carlos Jerónimo Nuñez López.

According to our information, Carlos Jerónimo Nuñez López, aged 70, was arrested on June 26, 2010, to serve a one-year prison sentence for libel for an article on environmental damage. Nuñez reportedly had no knowledge of his conviction at the time of his detention. He was in an Internet café near his home in Panama City when he was arrested by the police following a routine identity check. Nuñez was taken into police custody and is currently being held at the Department of Judicial Enquiries.

It is our understanding that the case against Nuñez stems from an article published a number of years ago (2005 or in the 1990s, according to different accounts) in the now-defunct weekly newspaper La Crónica, in which Nuñez alleged that a landowner’s activities had damaged a river in Bocas del Toro province. The landowner reportedly brought a libel suit against Nuñez and in December 2006 he was sentenced to one year in prison. His conviction was upheld on appeal in August 2008 but Nuñez’s lawyers reportedly failed to notify him of this. Nuñez has reportedly now exhausted all legal remedies and his current lawyer has requested that he be allowed to serve his sentence outside prison in view of his age. Nuñez has worked for La Crónica and the daily newspaper Crítica and is currently writing for the news web site Estudio 1 Panama.
PEN American Center is seriously concerned about the arrest of journalist Carlos Jerónimo Nuñez López and his one-year prison sentence for libel. While encouraged by the movement in Panama in recent years to decriminalize defamation and libel—matters we believe are most appropriately addressed in civil rather than criminal courts—we are troubled that criminal convictions such as this one are still being handed down. We call for Nuñez’s immediate release and for his case to be reviewed. We also call on the Panamanian authorities to decriminalize all forms of defamation, including libel.

Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter.

Hannah Pakula                                 
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee     

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: Ambassador Jaime E. Aleman
2862 McGill Terrace N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
Fax: (202) 483-8413

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