(RSF/IFEX) - In a 14 February 2002 letter to Supreme Court Chief Justice Carlos Fernández Gadea, RSF expressed its concern after Aldo Zuccolillo was sentenced to a fine of 541 million guaranis (approx. US$110,000; 125,700 euros). Zuccolillo, director of "ABC Color" newspaper, is accused of "defaming" a senator. "Without commenting on the particulars of the case, RSF feels that the fine is excessive," stated RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard. "Our organisation fears that this decision could result in self-censorship among journalists, who may refrain from criticising individuals implicated in matters of public interest," Ménard added. The organisation asked the Supreme Court chief justice to ensure that no order to pay such a large fine is issued upon appeal.
According to information collected by RSF, on 13 February, Zuccolillo was sentenced on appeal to a fine of 541 million guaranis for "defamation". In December 1998, Senator Juan Carlos Galaverna launched a legal action against Zuccolillo for an article in which the journalist referred to the senator as a "cookie thief" ("ladrón de galletas") and a "dealer in influence" ("traficante de influencias"). The court felt that these were "offensive statements" that "are not only an affront to the victim's dignity, but also have a negative impact on the collective conscious". The senator sought a prison sentence for Zuccolillo, as well as compensation. Zuccolillo's lawyer considers the sentence a press freedom violation. The two parties have both expressed their intention to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.