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  • Writer's picturePanama Human Rights

Torture & other Cruel, Inhuman, Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Human Rights Practices in Panama.

Updated: Oct 2, 2019

PANAMA reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016 United States Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour; The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them. Prison and Detention Center Conditions Prison conditions remained harsh, due primarily to overcrowding, shortage of prison guards, lack of adequate medical services, and inadequate sanitary conditions. There were no private detention facilities.

Physical Conditions: As of November the prison system, with an intended capacity of 14,174 inmates, held 17,165 prisoners. Pre-trial detainees shared cells with convicted prisoners due to space constraints.

Prison conditions for women were generally better than for men, but conditions for both genders remained poor, with overcrowded facilities, poor medical care, and a lack of basic supplies for personal hygiene. Some older facilities lacked potable water and adequate ventilation.

Juvenile pre-trial and custodial detention centers also suffered from a lack of prison officials. There were 1,005 prison guards nationwide, including 176 new guards hired during the year, almost double the 547 guards in 2010. Officials estimated the system required 1,400 guards. In adult prisons, inmates complained of limited time outside cells and limited access for family members. Authorities acknowledged that insufficient Panama National Police (PNP) agent coverage limited exercise time for inmates on certain days.

In March, prompted by a motion filed before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR), authorities transferred the six high-level gang leaders who were detained in the Punta Coco facility on a Pacific island to the Gran Joya complex on the mainland, leaving the facility vacant. Since Punta Coco’s 2015 opening, human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had complained that there was no physician on the island; inmates could receive medical assistance only from the sole National Air-Naval Service paramedic stationed there. In September, using public safety as justification, President Varela ordered the transfer of four high-risk Chorrillo gang members to Punta Coco after they injured a child. The gang members’ lawyer argued that the poor conditions of the detention center, including mosquito infestation, violated the detainees’ human rights. They were transferred to a mainland prison in late November, leaving the facility vacant, and subsequently released pending trial.

The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office reported that the principal prisoners concern was poor or inadequate medical attention. Hypertension, diabetes, dermatitis, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and respiratory illnesses were the most common diseases among the prison population. Prison medical care was inadequate due to lack of personnel, transportation, and medical resources. As of August, there were 73 medical staff (39 physicians, and 34 nurses and technical staff) assigned to all prisons nationwide. Authorities transferred patients with serious illnesses to public clinics, but there were difficulties arranging for the inmates’ transportation. The penitentiary system did not have an ambulance; inmates were transported in police vehicles or in emergency services ambulances when available. As of September prison, medical units continued to lack sufficient medicine. Authorities permitted relatives of inmates to bring medicine, although some relatives paid bribes to prison personnel, including PNP members, to bypass the required clearances. As of October, 25 male inmates had died in custody. Twenty-one of these deaths resulted from chronic illnesses, including tuberculosis and HIV, and all but two occurred after inmates had been transferred to medical centers for attention. An additional four individuals died in prison from inmate-on-inmate violence.

Denial of Fair Public Trial While the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judicial system was inefficient and susceptible to corruption and outside influence and faced allegations of manipulation by the executive branch. During the year the judiciary hired 931 lawyers to serve as public defenders, judges, and magistrates under the new accusatory system; however, the NGO ProJustice Alliance and the National Bar Association complained that the Supreme Court did not comply with Law 53 of 2015, which establishes hiring practices and merit-based promotions in the judiciary. In addition, the NGO alleged that the new hires lacked independence, as some of them previously worked for current Chief Justice Jose Ayu Prado. The Supreme Court hired the 931 new employees on a “temporary” basis allegedly due to insufficient time and budget for permanent staff.

Respect for Civil Liberties Including a. Freedom of Speech and Press; The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press. Some journalists complained of harassment, intimidation, and threats when covering stories of impropriety, corruption, or other crimes involving members of the Ministry of Public Security or members of the public security forces. Press and Media Freedoms: There were reports that the government discouraged journalists from writing stories critical of the administration. According to the Journalists’ Union of Panama, as of September, the National College of Journalists received 20 complaints of government pressure against media critics. The Supreme Court upheld the defamation conviction against two El Panama America journalists, Jean Marcel Chery and Gustavo Aparicio, for reporting on the 2001 construction of a private road using private funds of the former magistrate and minister Winston Spadafora. The court ordered the journalists to pay Spadafora 25,000 balboas ($25,000). Journalistic associations and the local media condemned the ruling as having a chilling effect on media’s ability to monitor public servants’ financial activities.

During the year the Thirteenth Civil Court ordered daily La Prensa to pay brothers David and Daniel Ochy 600,000 balboas ($600,000) for a 2012 case on the grounds of “moral damages.” A La Prensa publication had reported the Ministry of Public Works favoured the Ochys’ construction company, TRANSCARIBE Trading, with projects worth millions of dollars. During the year, media outlets controlled by political and business leaders facing legal proceedings claimed those proceedings limited their freedom of expression. The media outlets continued to publish and broadcast freely throughout the year.

Violence and Harassment In March journalist Ana Sierra from the Metro Libre daily claimed that the security chief of a local hospital intimidated her and forced her to delete photos she had taken of patients she interviewed despite the fact that she had the patients’ permission to take the photographs.

Click below image for Panamá 2016 Human Rights Report (Spanish):

Panamá 2016 Human Rights Report (English):

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