Persecution or Panama justice?
PANAMA. The journalist and editor of the tabloid El Siglo, Jean Marcel Chéry has been sentenced to two years in jail for trespassing on...
PANAMA. The journalist and editor of the tabloid El Siglo, Jean Marcel Chéry has been sentenced to two years in jail for trespassing on the property of the Supreme Court judge, Winston Spadafora, who was at the time a minister in the Mireya Moscoso government.
The judge of the Second Penal Circuit, Ricardo Mazza Moreno passed the sentence on Tuesday. He also sentenced Chéry to 100 days of fine ($10 per day) and prohibited him from serving in public office. Moreno was involved in another controversial decision when he acquitted an uncle of President Martin Torrijos. The decision was overturned on appeal.
Spadafora accused Chéry of illegally entering his farm located in La Arenosa, Chorrera, when he was reporter of the newspaper, the Panama America on March 8, 2001.
The journalist was investigating allegations that a 4.6 kilometer which was being financed by public funds from the Social Investment Funds, only exclusively led to the farm of Spadafora.
Mazza Moreno acquitted Panama America’s journalist, Gustavo Aparicio, who was also accused of the same crime, although defense lawyers insisted he never set foot in the farm.
Chéry and the other people who entered Spadafora’s farm said that the foreman of the judge invited them in and even opened the gate to show them the front part of the property.
The journalist said that he will appeal the sentence within the five working days given by the law.
According to Chéry the sentence is part of the persecution that Spadafora maintains against him, for the article about the road that he wrote when the Judge was Minister of Government and Justice.
Chéry sentenced has been qualified as shameful and unfair by the Council of Journalism, which represents the media and journalists of the country.
The Council has requested an appointment with the president of the Supreme Court, Harley Mitchell to discuss the case.
The College of Journalists president, Aurelia Marin said that there were anomalies in the way Chéry’s case was handled by the courts and her organization is on a state of alert.
The Democratic Change presidential candidate, Ricardo Martinelli said he supports the freedom of the press and that what happened to Jean Marcel Chéry, who was only doing an investigative report was shameful.
Martinelli said: “This sort of situation attempts to hamper the freedom of the press, of a journalist and a newspaper, that have the duty and the obligation to denounce any harmful acts against the State.”
The politician added that in this particular instance, money from the State was used to build a road that only benefited the property of one person.
The lawyer, Guillermo Cochez said that the judge Ricardo Mazza Moreno is corrupt and he only gave the sentence to please his superiors.
“Mazza was the judge in the case of Rodolfo “Charro” Espino and acquitted him after he was accused of destroying hectares of mangroves in Chame. The verdict was later reversed,” said Cochez.
The lawyer said that even the president of the Supreme Court Harley Mitchell has requested that Mazza Moreno’s cases investigated, because there have been irregularities in the way he has been handling the files.
The Press Inter-American Society called the verdict judicial harassment.
Winston Spadafora was elevated to the Supreme Court during the administration of Mireya Moscoso.