Reporters Without Borders today called for the immediate release of Milton Chacaguasay Flores, owner and editor of the weekly La Verdad, based in Machala, south-western Ecuador.
The journalist, who had been acquitted in a lower court, was sentenced on appeal on 15 November to 10 months in prison for “insulting” a judge and imprisoned two weeks later.
This came one month after Freddy Aponte Aponte, of privately-owned local radio Luz y Vida, was jailed for the same reason. He too had been acquitted by a lower court.
“These two virtually identical cases inevitably point to the need to decriminalise press offences” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “Our concern is not to know if insult was really given in either case. We challenge the principle of prison sentences being handed down for this kind of offence.”
“Imprisonment does not put right the offence the complainant considers himself a victim of and it has nothing to do with the protection of society and it will never guard the press against possible abuse.”
“The law should be reformed and we urge President Rafael Correa to use his prerogative to pardon the two journalists” it added.
Judge Silvio Castillo originally sued Milton Chacaguasay Flores over an article published in September 2007 and attributed to the editor of La Verdad, which implicated him in “illicit enrichment”. Chacaguasay Flores was acquitted in the lower court after he demonstrated to the court that neither he nor the newspaper were behind the article, which had been carried in a free insert and did not even name the judge.
Castillo appealed against the acquittal and won his case on 15 November 2008. The same appeal court had earlier sentenced Chacaguasay Flores to eight months in prison in February 2008 for “insulting” a leader of the Christian Socialist Party, José Ugarte Aguilar, whom he reportedly accused of corruption. The journalist’s family said that he had received death threats from the politician, on 1st December.
The journalist was initially jailed at the Machala rehabilitation centre and then transferred to Quito, as a “precaution”, the family added. His judicial fate is now in the hands of the country’s highest jurisdiction, the National Court of Justice, which recently upheld Freddy Aponte Aponte’s six-month prison sentence.
Press offences remain punishable by prison sentences under Ecuadorian law, contrary to a general trend on the continent towards decriminalisation, under Article 13 of the Inter-American Human Rights Convention and jurisprudence set by the Inter-American Human Rights court.