Defamation charges Panama must free Dutch journalist: Transparency International

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Panama?s President Juan Carlos Varela Rodiguez, seen in September 2016, has asked the head of his country's supreme court to "evaluate" Dutch journalist Okke Ornstein's case, while stressing that the tribunal was independent play

Panama?s President Juan Carlos Varela Rodiguez, seen in September 2016, has asked the head of his country's supreme court to "evaluate" Dutch journalist Okke Ornstein's case, while stressing that the tribunal was independent

(AFP/File)

A Dutch journalist jailed in Panama on charges of defamation for reporting on alleged corruption should be freed immediately, the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International said Friday.

"The premise is that any conviction against freedom of expression is always going to be questioned by Transparency International," the Panamanian representative of the group, Carlos Gasnell, told AFP.

He urged that the case against the journalist, Okke Ornstein, be heard as a civil, not criminal, matter.

The chairman of Transparency International's board of directors, Jose Ugaz, on Thursday called for the "immediate release and exoneration" of Ornstein.

The journalist, who manages a website called Bananama Republic, was arrested on November 15 when he arrived at Panama's airport, according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which is also campaigning for his release.

The Panamanian government says he faces up to 20 months in prison if convicted of slander and libel against four people in relation to cases started in 2011 and 2012.

The IFJ says the matter concerns articles Ornstein wrote about alleged fraudulent activities by a Canadian citizen facing criminal proceedings in Panama.

Panama's president, Juan Carlos Varela, has asked the head of his country's supreme court to "evaluate" Ornstein's case, while stressing that the tribunal was independent.

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