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Ecuador22 September 2003

Journalist sentenced to six months in prison for libelling former president

Reporters Without Borders protested today against the six-month prison sentence passed on columnist Rodrigo Fierro of the Quito-based daily El Comercio on 19 September for allegedly libelling a former president by accusing him of serving the oligarchy.

"This sentence sets a dangerous precedent for press freedom in Ecuador by encouraging journalists to censor themselves," the organisation said, stressing that it strongly opposed the criminalization of press offences.

In a letter to supreme court president Armando Bermeo, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard urged higher court judges "to rule out a prison sentence a priori" if they uphold the guilty verdict when the case is heard in appeal.

The organisation pointed out that The UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression determined in January 2000 that "the imposition of a prison sentence for the peaceful expression of opinion constitutes a serious violation of human rights."

Fierro was sentenced as a result of a libel suit by former president León Febres-Cordero, now a parliamentary representative for the Social Christian Party (PSC), over a column published on 29 May in which Fierro said his government had "served the plutocratic oligarchy that rules the country." Fierro has appealed against the sentence.

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