On 29 October, Ecuador’s supreme court upheld a sentence of 30 days in prison for journalist Rodrigo Fierro for defaming former President Leonel Febres Cordero. As Fierro is more than 70 years old and has no previous convictions, the prison sentence will not however be executed. The fine was also reportedly reduced to a symbolic sum.
16.01.2004 - Court upholds a one-month prison sentence against journalist Rodrigo Fierro
Reporters Without Borders is very concerned by the dismissal of the latest appeal of Rodrigo Fierro, of the daily El Comercio, sentenced on appeal in December 2003 to 30 days in prison.
The Quito Superior Court confirmed the prison sentence against Fierro on 9 January. Former president León Febres-Cordero, a deputy in the right-wing Social-Christian Party (PSC), laid a complaint against Fierro over a 29 May 2003 article in which Fierro accused Febres-Cordero of putting the government "at the service of the plutocratic oligarchy that runs the country."
The upholding of this sentence shows a serious worsening of the state of press freedom in Ecuador, where no journalist had been sent to prison for a long time," said Robert Ménard, secretary general of Reporters Without Borders. "The Rodrigo Fierro case therefore sets a dangerous precedent," he added, in a letter to the president of the Supreme Court, which is the final appeal court with authority to rule on the case.
Ménard called on this court to respect the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in the Americas adopted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and to quash the sentence. Article 11 says, "Laws that penalise offensive expressions directed at public officials restrict freedom of expression and the right to information".
The international press freedom organisation also pointed out that the UN Special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression had adopted a text in January 2000 that said imprisonment for peaceful expression of an opinion constituted a serious violation of human rights.
The Quito Superior Court on 9 January 2004 confirmed the one-month sentence pronounced on appeal on 12 December 2003 against Rodrigo Fierro, columnist on the daily El Comercio. Ferrio was originally sentenced to six months in prison for defamation on 19 September 2003. The day after the 12 December ruling, he put in a fresh appeal based on Article 82 of the criminal code. under which those sentenced to jail terms of less than six months do not have to serve them, if like Ferrio, they have no previous convictions. In its reasons for the 12 January decision, the Superior Court explained that the journalist should have advanced this argument before being sentenced. The journalist’s lawyers put in a further appeal on 12 January.