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Native leader sentenced to one year in prison, fined for offending government official

(Fundamedios/IFEX) - On 25 November 2011, Judge Wilson Lozada, of the Fourteenth Penal Guarantees Court of Pichincha, sentenced native leader and former government official Mónica Chuji to twelve months in prison and a payment of US$100,000 in damages. She was accused of having offended a government official. The lawsuit was filed by Vinicio Alvarado, National Public Administration Secretary, who was offended because Chuji referred to him as "nouveau riche" in an interview published by the "El Comercio" newspaper nine months earlier.

The sentence against Chuji states that: " . . . the accusation filed by the plaintiff, Dr. Vinicio Alvarado Espinel, against Mónica Chuji Gualinga, as the author of said crime, is accepted. The accused is sentenced to twelve months in prison . . . she is also condemned to pay damages . . . in the amount of US$100,000. With an additional US$1,000 for court expenses . . . "

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After being notified of the sentence, Chuji proclaimed her innocence and stated explicitly that she has not committed a crime."I am not guilty of slander. I am a victim of the full force of power and, confronted by this, we have stood firmly, with the truth in hand. I publicised the results of investigations, the words of many who were already expressing the same thing," said the native leader, who a few days earlier had said she felt like a victim of political persecution.

Meanwhile, during a press conference held at the Presidency, Alvarado stated that he has decided to forgive Chuji, and that "she will not have to pay one cent" or go to prison. Chuji, however, stated that she believes only God can forgive her."I am innocent and he has nothing to forgive me for," the native leader said.

Concerning the plaintiff's announcement of forgiveness, Julio César Trujillo, Chuji's lawyer, noted that "once a sentence has been issued nobody can modify it except for an appeal tribunal or judge. None of the parties involved has the capacity to repeal a sentence. That this actually happens is a different thing, but it is not legally correct," he said.

Chuji's lawyer also announced the he would file an appeal within the three days demanded by law and that he and his client will analyze whether to initiate legal proceedings against Alvarado. They have not ruled out the possibility of turning to international authorities after exhausting every legal avenue within the country.

During the trial hearing, which took place on 18 November in the presence of President of the Republic Rafael Correa and several government officials, Alvarado's lawyer requested a three-year prison sentence for Chuji and a payment of US$250,000. Meanwhile, the native leader's defense asked for the trial to be nullified because, as the case involved a public authority, the process should have been public, not private.

In February 2011 Chuji declared in an interview with the newspaper "El Comercio" that Alvarado was one of the government's "nouveau riche". On 15 April the Fourteenth Penal Guaranteed Court accepted the case for trial after the government official filed a lawsuit against Chuji.

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