PANAMA CITY – Two Spanish journalists arrested over the weekend while covering anti-mining protests in the Panamanian capital left on Monday for Spain.
Paco Gomez Nadal and Pilar Chato, who are husband and wife, were detained Saturday and then handed over to immigration authorities.
Chato told Efe shortly before leaving the country en route to Costa Rica, where the couple will take an Iberia flight to Madrid, that they had agreed to be repatriated due to the pressure to which they were subjected after their arrests.
“We’ve agreed to opt for voluntary return to facilitate the process,” she said in brief telephone remarks from the airport.
She said she could not give any more details because both she and her husband were remaining in the custody of a Panamanian immigration official until they arrive in Spain and that official was only letting them say goodbye to their friends.
Chato denied the government’s accusations that her husband helped incite the demonstration and she said that both she and Gomez Nadal had their residence papers in order.
Gomez Nadal, a freelancer for Spanish daily El Pais and Panama’s La Prensa, told the latter that he had been subjected to an “arbitrary process.”
“It’s the only thing I’m going to say, absolutely arbitrary,” emphasized the reporter, who in his weekly column in La Prensa had been a harsh critic of the management of Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli and of open-pit mining.
While Panamanian authorities accuse Gomez Nadal of “instigating and organizing” the protests against a mining bill, Chato said her husband was at the Indian demonstration only as an observer and coordinator in Panama of the organization Human Rights Everywhere.
The journalist identified himself as such to the police officer who confronted him, but the latter then asked him to turn over the camera he was carrying, which Gomez Nadal refused to do whereupon he was arrested, and his wife – witnessing this – began to protest and was then also arrested.
Nadal and Chato, an editor for Diario Montañes, were taken on Sunday before the judge for the district of Ancon, who verbally admonished them for participating in the protest and left the case in the hands of immigration authorities.
Ngobe Bugle Indians staged demonstrations for three days in western Panama and the capital to protest mining legislation they say will put their communities at risk of environmental damage.
The government and the Indians on Sunday night came to an agreement in principle to unblock the highways that the latter have kept closed for three days and to begin a dialogue on Tuesday with the mediation of the Catholic Church. EFE