Yesterday, police at Renacer Prison denied Ornstein visitation rights and harassed the friends and family who showed up to see him. These forms of abuse violate the principles of human rights, and they stand in stark contrast to recent claims by Panama’s government about adhering to due process and freedom of expression. To put it bluntly, these claims are at best full of hot air. Read more in our latest press release.
Manuel Succari, Attorney
Phone (Panama): 507 6648 0347
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Panama Continues to Violate the Rights of Dutch Journalist Okke Ornstein
Despite government claims, Panama is not adhering to due process and human rights
PANAMA CITY, Panama, December 5, 2016 — When family and friends showed up to visit Dutch journalist Okke Ornstein at Panama’s Renacer Prison yesterday, they were wrongly told that he was not allowed visitors, violating his right to receive visitors on both Saturdays and Sundays between the local hours of 9am and 3pm.
Further, the police degraded Ornstein’s 13 year-old daughter and her family members by laughing at them and making sexist comments about Ornstein’s partner, Kimberlyn David (who was not present). After some time, the police called the daughter’s mother to say that visitation was actually allowed, but it was too late—they were already back home, and the daughter was too upset to return to the prison.
The police gave Ornstein’s neighbors, who had traveled from Isla Taboga to see him, false information about special visiting hours. When the neighbors asked to see the visitation rules, police pointed to a ragged piece of paper taped to a wall inside the guard house. Obviously, they couldn’t read the rules.
Officer Torres was the policeman in charge at the gate where the visitors were denied entry. Ornstein said he will file a formal complaint with his lawyer against Panama’s prison system and Officer Torres of the National Police for harassment—and for insulting his daughter and the family members who accompanied her to the prison.
Panama’s Ministry of Foreign affairs released a statement on December 1 claiming that the government was “affording Mr. Ornstein the treatment he is entitled to as a journalist, according to the Government of the Republic of Panama’s firm commitment to respect freedom of expression and human rights.”
The denial of visitation rights, along with the inappropriate police conduct at Renacer Prison, are forms of abuse that stand in stark contrast to these government claims.
In its December 1 statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also said: “…the charges presented against Mr. Ornstein in 2011 followed due process, in compliance with current laws of the Republic of Panama and, at all times, he had access to legal representation for his defense.”
That spurious claim must be fully challenged, said Ornstein, who pointed out that his public defense attorney at Panama’s 14th Criminal Court, Ana González, stopped fulfilling her duties to communicate with him and to work on his cases. Ornstein said that González never informed him of actionable legal options, and she did not carry out his requests. At one point, she simply did not return any of his emails or phone calls.
Ornstein’s right to follow any trials or legal procedures in a language that he fully understands was not adhered to. “While I speak Spanish well enough, I don’t understand it to the point of confidence for legal matters,” he said. “I didn’t understood half of what was said during hearings. I was never granted a Dutch interpreter at any hearings or when making statements, and no Dutch interpreter ever reviewed legal documents pertaining to my cases.”
Ornstein said that although he clearly writes and speaks English pretty fluently, he was never assigned an English-speaking interpreter, either. Another due-process issue, he said, is that he was never notified about a case that the now-deceased Clyde Jenkins filed against him.
Ornstein was detained and arrested upon arriving at Panama’s Tocumen International Airport on Tuesday, November 15. He is facing a baseless 20-month sentence for libel and slander pertaining to articles he posted on his blog about the dubious business activities of a Canadian citizen, Monte Friesner, in Panama.
Friesner, whose lawsuit led to Ornstein’s conviction in Panama, was himself convicted in the United States—for similar offenses that Ornstein wrote about on his blog (see: United States of America, Plaintiff-appellee, v. Monte Morris Friesner, Defendant-appellant, 61 F.3d 917). Friesner was also facing criminal prosecution in Panama, where he was under investigation for his business Financeria Pronto Cash.
Ornstein also faces another conviction for a lawsuit filed by Patrick Visser—for sharing news that had already been reported by the Christian Science Monitor about Visser’s carbon-offsetting scheme, Silva Tree. Ornstein is simultaneously dealing with three other charges in Panama: one filed by Jenkins, another by Friesner and a similar suit filed years ago that the court never showed interest in until now.