Dutch journalist arrested in Panama after criticizing Canadian businessman

Arrest (Photo: Politie)Arrest (Photo: Politie)

Dutch journalist Okke Ornstein is in custody in Panama, Dutch journalists' association NVJ announced on Villamedia on Sunday. He was arrested on Tuesday last week when he entered Panama because of articles on his blog Bananama Republic in which he criticized Canadian businessman Monte Friesner, who lives in Panama.

According to the NVJ, Ornstein is facing 20 months in prison. The Dutch association, supported by the International and European federations of journalists IFJ and EFJ, are working hard to secure his freedom, calling the charges of criminal libel against him baseless. Ornstein's lawyer Channa Samkalden told the IFJ that the Dutch journalist did not get due process or proper legal aid during the criminal proceedings in Panama. Ornstein's blog posts mostly concern cases about corruption and fraud. 

"A 20 month prison sentence over a series of blog posts is against the fundemental principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression, principles that are cknowledged as fundamental rights world wide", NVJ secretary general Thomas Bruning said in a post on the IFJ site."this prison sentence sends a signal that critical journalism on fraud and corrution is not possible in Panama. Ornstein is being punished in a way that does not comply with the principles of a democratic justice system."

IFJ president Philippe Leruth joined the call for Ornstein's release. "Journalists should be able to investigate freely and to informcivil society about all kinds of crime, including fraud and corruption, so that these criminals face the full force of the law. It should be them being detained (the criminals, ed) and not the messenger being punsihed."

The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Dutch embassy in Panama are also working to free Ornstein and to ensure that he has access to proper legal aid.