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Journalism is Not a Crime

Okke Ornstein, a Dutch journalist, was detained and arrested upon arriving at Panama’s Tocumen International Airport on Tuesday, November 15, 2016. He faced a 20-month sentence for libel and slander pertaining to articles he posted on his Bananama Republic blog about the dubious business activities of a Canadian citizen, Monte Friesner, in Panama. Ornstein was released on December 23, 2016—after President Varela signed a decree that reduced his sentence.

Locking up journalists who expose corruption is a frightening global phenomenon. As the Committee to Protect Journalists pointed out, Ornstein was one of the 259 journalists who were jailed worldwide in 2016. He plans to start a legal case against Panama in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, to address repeated violations of due process and human rights.

Ornstein faced threats in Panama for his reporting before. In 2003, the free press organization IFEX expressed concerns about threats against him and another journalist for exposing fraud. His work continues to draw smear campaigns by shady types who don’t want the journalism spotlight shining on their nefarious activities.

Several transparency and free press organizations advocated for Ornstein’s release: Transparency International, the International Federation of Journalists, NVJ (Dutch Association of Journalists), the Committee to Protect Journalists, La Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa, Fahmy Foundation, Reporters Without Borders.

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