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IAPA concerned after reporter is convicted for stating his opinion

(IAPA/IFEX) - Miami, March 29, 2010 - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today expressed concern at the 3-year sentence handed down to Emilio Palacio, reporter and op-ed page editor of the Guayaquil-based newspaper "El Universo", on a charge of defamation over an opinion piece published last year. The organization urged the country to follow the current trend and decriminalize such offenses.

The accusation against Palacio was brought last October 1st by the chairman of the board of directors of the state National Financial Corporation (CFN), Camilo Samán, over his article entitled "Camilo, el matón" (Camilo, the bully), published on August 27. The item, based on an investigative report published in the newspaper several days earlier, referred to the long delays in processing CFN's small loans.

IAPA President Alejandro Aguirre, editor of the Miami, Florida, Spanish-language newspaper "Diario Las Américas", declared, "Once again we can see by this type of incident evidence of the need to decriminalize the offense of defamation; otherwise press freedom is harmed by requiring journalists to censor themselves in order to avoid reprisals." Aguirre added that what is of most concern in this case is that "apart from whether the information that the journalist referred to is accurate or not, what is really at stake here is that a person was convicted for expressing an opinion, and that opens up an enormous window to restrict columnists, editorials, letters and all kinds of expressions or people's opinions."

Criminal Rights Court Judge Carmen Argüello sentenced Palacio to three years' imprisonment for being "the author of a series of offenses of honor, injurious defamation and non-egregious injurious defamation" of a public official. The sentence, which also ordered a $10,000 fine for legal costs, was appealed.

Samán filed the lawsuit against Palacio on the grounds that the article made him a victim of "dishonor, discredit, undermining of my reputation, and damage to my name and morals with a series of defamations."

Robert Rivard, chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information and editor of the "San Antonio Express-News", Texas, said that the IAPA upholds the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression, which seeks to exclude defamation as a criminal offense when it concerns public figures and government officials. He added that inter-American case law, already accepted by judges in a number of countries, upholds the concept of "real malice" which requires proof that an accused journalist intended to do damage to or dishonor a reputation.
Case history

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