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Radio journalist sentenced to one year in prison for malicious slander

(Fundamedios/IFEX) - On 27 April 2011, journalist Walter Vite Benítez was arrested by the police in Esmeraldas, 318 km north of Quito, in compliance with a sentence issued during a trial for malicious slander stemming from an accusation filed by the mayor of the city of Esmeraldas, Ernesto Estupiñán Quintero, three years earlier.

The arrest took place on the morning of April 27 with a warrant issued by the 3rd Esmeraldas Criminal Magistrate, Édgar Benalcázar, who also sentenced the journalist to a year in prison and fined him US$500. The mayor had accused Vite of offending him during his opinion program, which is broadcast by the Iris radio station.

Judge Benalcázar commented that in this case, all he had done was issue the arrest warrant. He noted that the case had already been tried in a first and second instance court, and that the appeal for annulment filed by Vite's counsel had not been accepted.

Vite, who is detained in the Esmeraldas Provisional Detention Center's cells, told Fundamedios that he is being persecuted because of his questioning of the Esmeraldas local government on his radio program.

Vite emphasized that he never mentioned Estupiñán by name on his radio show and that he believes the legal process was marred by a number of irregularities. For example, the journalist explained, all of the mayor's witnesses worked at the municipality or were members of the Popular Democratic Movement, the mayor's political party.

The journalist has begun a hunger strike to protest the imprisonment. Fundamedios recalls that some years earlier, Vite suffered an attempt on his life; he was returning home when a man approached him and shot him several times.

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