Dutch Journalist Awaiting Verdict for Writing About Corruption

From the original post at FairPress.eu:

Dutch journalist Okke Ornstein was arrested upon arriving at the International Airport Tocumen in Panama on November 15 this year and he now faces a 20 month prison sentence for articles that were published on his blog Bananama Republic about the dubious business activities of a Canadian citizen, Monte Friesner, in Panama. As it is stated on the website Freeokkeornstein, Friesner was convicted earlier in the USA for similar offences that Ornstein wrote about. Namely, Friesner was found guilty, as it can be seen in the judgment, of twenty felony counts, money laundering and other crimes relating to the unlawful use of interstate commerce. On his blog, Ornstein frequently talked about cases of corruption; his journalistic work has been nominated for awards such as Prix Europa and Tegel.

In addition to this one, Ornstein is facing three more lawsuits in Panama and this isn’t the first time that he is faced with threats for his journalistic work and pointing to unlawful acts. A number of relevant international organisations pointed to the violation of his rights.

In order to find out which faze the process that is conducted against Ornstein is in, we asked his partner and communications director of the non-profit organisation Metta Center for Nonviolence Education and editor in chief of Nonviolence Magazine, Kimberlyn David.

All those who attended last week’s International Anti-Corruption Conference in Panama City witnessed the public calls by protestors and the global head of Transparency International to release Okke Ornstein.

n the press release that was sent to us it is stated that the police degraded his thirteen year old daughter, made fun of the members of his family and made sexist comments about his partner, Kimberlyn David, who wasn’t even present. After that, the police called Ornstein’s wife to say that visitations were actually allowed, but it was too late – they were already home and the daughter was too upset to return to the prison, it is stated in the press release. On the occasion of all of this, the journalist decided to file a complaint against the Panama prison system and the policeman who was in charge of visitations for harassment and for insulting his daughter and family.

In the press release it is also stated that earlier (December 1) Panama’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement 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 inappropriate police conduct at the Renacer Prison are forms of abuse that stand in stark contrast to these government claims, it is stated in the press release. Also, the journalist was denied the right to a lawyer, i.e. a legal representative that Panama should assign him, in accordance with the law. Ornstein emphasised that his public defence attorney, Ana González, didn’t inform him of his legal options and at one point she simply stopped communicating with him by not answering his phone calls of responding to his emails. His right to follow the court hearing in a language that he fully understands was also not adhered to. “While I speak Spanish well enough, I don’t understand it to the point of confidence for legal matters. I didn’t understand half of what was said during hearings,” Ornstein said.

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