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Panama grants diplomatic asylum to "El Universo" director

(Fundamedios/IFEX) - On 16 February 2012, the president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, granted diplomatic asylum to Carlos Pérez Barriga, one of "El Universo"'s three directors. The asylum was granted after a sentence was ratified that convicted the paper's directors, Carlos, César and Nicolás Pérez, and former feature writer Emilio Palacio, to three years in prison and the payment of $40 million for the crime of slanderous offenses against President Rafael Correa.

At around 10:30 am, the Panamanian Chief of State wrote the following message in his official Twitter account @rmartinelli: “I have just granted asylum to 'El Universo' newspaper journalist Carlos Pérez Barriga, fined with three years in prison and US$40 million, in Ecuador”.

A few hours later, Panama's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued an official statement saying that, after considering the arguments presented in writing by Mr. Pérez Barriga, it welcomed his request to apply for diplomatic asylum. "On 16 February 2012, the Ambassador of Panama in Ecuador, José Noriel Acosta, through notice E.P.S.EC.70-12, reported that he received Mr. Carlos Eduardo Pérez Barriga, with passport 0904581618, director of the Ecuadorian newspaper EL UNIVERSO, at the headquarters of the Embassy of Panamá in Quito, Ecuador, who presented a request for Diplomatic Asylum based on the 1954 Caracas Convention on Diplomatic Asylum".

Concerning the other newspaper's directors, it is known that César and Nicolás Pérez remain abroad where they will share information about the situation of the institution and of freedoms in Ecuador.

The Ecuadorian minister of Foreign Affairs, Ricardo Patiño, reacted by saying: “Then every criminal in this country who is convicted should request asylum in Panamá,” according to a note published by the newspaper "El Comercio".

At midnight on 15 February, the three judges of the Criminal Division, Wilson Merino, Paúl Íñiguez and Jorge Blum, ratified the sentence against "El Universo"'s directors and its former feature writer. The dispute was initiated after Palacio wrote an opinion article that referred to the Ecuadorian president's actions on 30 September 2010. Correa had originally requested compensatory damages amounting to $80 million.

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