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Expulsion of two Spanish journalists deals blow to freedom of expression

(RSF/IFEX) - Spanish journalists Paco Gómez Nadal and Pilar Chato agreed under pressure to be repatriated on 1 March 2011, 48 hours after being arrested during a demonstration by indigenous groups outside the parliament building in Panama City in protest against a mining law reform.

While transiting through Costa Rica on 1 March, the couple told journalists the Panamanian authorities pressured them to accept voluntary repatriation, which would allow them to return to Panama within two years, instead of four years if they had been deported.

"Regardless of the legal nuances, Gómez and Chato were the victims of a politically motivated expulsion because their support for the indigenous cause as journalists and their involvement in the NGO Human Rights Everywhere ran counter to the Panamanian government's interests," Reporters Without Borders said.

"This case represents a denial of freedom of expression on a matter of public interest," the press freedom organisation added.

Their expulsion serves as a reminder of the risks to which journalists are exposed when they specialise in covering sensitive environmental issues. Mining is a particularly sensitive issue in Latin America.

Reporters Without Borders drew attention to the need to protect environmental journalists in a thematic report covering several continents released in June 2010.

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