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Ecuador1 June 2007

Journalist faces possible prison sentence if convicted of “insult and calumny”

Reporters Without Borders today said it hoped the Quito supreme court would not find journalist Celio Rosario Chamba of the El Correo de Machalá guilty of “insult and calumny” - which are punishable by imprisonment - for reporting that two veterinary doctors plagiarised a Cuban book for a thesis they wrote, especially as they finally acknowledged copying much of it.

“Convicting Chamba of insult and calumny would be absurd and dangerous,” the press freedom organisation said. “Dangerous because these charges do not correspond to the alleged facts. Chamba did not insult or malign anyone. He could at most be accused of libel. And anyway, the two people who sued him have themselves acknowledged the substance of what he wrote in his article. We therefore urge the court to rule in his favour on both procedural and substantive grounds.”

The current president of the College of Journalists of El Oro, Chamba wrote in El Correo de Machalá (a daily newspaper based in the southern city of Machalá) on 20 August 2005 that the two vets copied most of their thesis from a Cuban book without permission. After bring a suit against him and losing before a lower court on 27 November 2006, the vets appealed to the Quito supreme court, which held its final hearing in the case on 15 May and is expected to issue its verdict in the next few days.

The authors of the Cuban book, Santiago Torrens and Armando Alvarez Díaz, have acknowledged that they agreed principle to their book being used as a bibliographic reference although they did not explicitly agree to its reproduction. The two vets finally admitted to borrowing heavily from the Cuban book but insisted this was not a problem. One of the vets, Luis Antonio Brito, was a candidate for the post of rector of Machalá university when the article came out, and he claims Chamba wrote it with the intention of undermining his candidature.

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