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Journalist sentenced to six months' imprisonment for slander; governor prevents reporter from taping quarrel among political leaders

(IPYS/IFEX) - On 25 September 2008, journalist Freddy Aponte Aponte, of the radio station Luz y Vida, based in the city of Loja, was sentenced to sixth months' imprisonment by the III Criminal Bench of the National Court of Justice. He is accused of having slandered Loja's former mayor, José Bolívar Castillo Vivanco, who on 25 November demanded from the judges US$1 million in damages for the same case.

The former mayor accused the journalist of having called him a "thief" in June 2007, during an interview with former member of parliament Oswaldo Burneo, broadcast by Aponte on his editorial program "Primer Plano".

In January 2008, Loja's III Criminal Judge Humberto Aguilera acquitted the journalist. The former mayor appealed the ruling and, in April, the Criminal Bench of the Loja Provincial Court of Justice reversed the sentence and convicted Aponte. The journalist appealed the verdict, which was upheld by the III Criminal Bench of the National Court.

The journalist has spent one month in prison in the Drivers' wing of Loja's Center for Social Rehabilitation, after turning himself into the police on 29 October.

Aponte questions the Bench's ruling, noting that one of the judges is related to the former mayor. He also insists that his guilt was not proven as there is no material evidence of the alleged crime; the interview with the former member of parliament was not taped because the recording equipment had broken down.

The journalist also pointed out that the Bench never summoned Burneo as a witness. Furthermore, he received intimidating calls on his cell phone and was threatened to death on the day he was sentenced.

Journalists and friends are collecting 15,000 signatures needed to request an amnesty from the president of the Congressional Legislation and Auditing Commission, Fernando Cordero.

IPYS and Fundamedios (Fundación Andina para la Observación y Estudio de Medios) call on the III Criminal Bench of the National Court of Justice to review the evidence on which its ruling was based.

Both associations believe that crimes of opinion should be decriminalized and tried in the civil courts, which impose damages but not prison terms for those found guilty.

In a separate case, on 22 November, Marlon Torres, a correspondent for Radio Sucumbios, was mistreated by Governor Nancy Morocho when the journalist attempted to record an argument between two officials in the midst of a political meeting held to elect new representatives. The politicians had met in community-owned premises in the Shushufindi village, Sucumbios province, in the Amazonian region of Ecuador.

The fight between political representatives William Guevara and Carlos Valencia, due to their differences in opinion about the village's leadership, was overheard by Torres who proceeded to turn on his tape recorder. When the governor noticed this, she used a microphone to order that the journalist be expelled from the premises. Without any due explanations, she asked her bodyguard to escort the journalist to the door and to make sure that his tape recorder was shut off.

The audience protested for the way the journalist had been treated, thus avoiding his expulsion. Although Torres was finally allowed to stay, he could not continue taping the incident.

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