9 Journalists Expelled by Panama

From Associated Press

Nine foreign journalists were expelled Wednesday, accused by the government of spreading misinformation on the political crisis, a government spokesman said.

"These foreign correspondents have been misinforming in their dispatches on the electoral process. Consequently, the Social Communications Media Bureau has decided to ask them to leave the country immediately," Luis Romero Villalobos, the bureau director, told reporters.

Among those expelled were Charles Jaco, an American working for Cable News Network, and Michael Drudge and Ruben del Castillo of the U.S. government's Voice of America, Romero said.

Also expelled were Domenique Petite and Arturo Gudino of Agence France-Presse, Jose Melendez and Javier Rojas of the Mexico City newspaper Excelsior, Joaquin Ibarz of the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia and Lafit Fernandez, a Costa Rican journalist.

Tuesday night, four American reporters were taken into custody in the capital and detained for about two hours, the journalists said.

William Branigin of the Washington Post, Charles Lane of Newsweek magazine, Philip Bennett of the Boston Globe and Kenneth Freed of the Los Angeles Times said they were driving through downtown Panama City when riot police stopped them.

During the more than two hours that four reporters were held, Branigin and Freed were handcuffed so tightly together that their circulation was impaired and bruises remained the next day. In addition, the Panamanian security agent constantly pushed and shoved and verbally abused the two reporters before his superior claimed that the whole incident had been a misunderstanding.

Later, the same agent threatened Freed for complaining about the abusive treatment.

Authorities apologized for the detention, saying it was a misunderstanding.

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