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United States grants political asylum to persecuted Ecuadorian columnist

(Fundamedios/IFEX) - On Thursday 30 August 2012, Emilio Palacio, former opinion editor of the newspaper El Universo, announced that the government of the United States has granted him political asylum six months after he requested it. Palacio and the paper's directors were sentenced to three years in prison and the payment of 40 million dollars to Rafael Correa as reparations.

Karen Hillihan, member of the Inter American Institute for Democracy, reported the news through Twitter, pointing out that the decision had been based on the fact that Palacio was the victim of political persecution.

Through a press conference carried out in Miami, USA, Palacio stated that the US Citizen and Immigration Services made its decision a day after President Correa granted political asylum to the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, wanted by the law in Sweden and the United Kingdom. The former columnist also delivered a file with around 1200 pages of evidence of the persecution he was a victim of, as well as videos, recordings, photographs and newspaper cuttings in digital format.

In declarations made to CNN, Palacio stated: "The asylum is dated 17 August. It allows me to live legally in the United States and work (...) it covers my family, my wife and my 19- and 7-year-old children". After the announcement of the decision made by the American government, Sandra Grossman, Palacio's attorney, emphasized that Ecuador is one of a few countries in the western hemisphere that still criminalizes forms of expression offensive to public officials, applying laws known as 'in contempt of authorities'.

Meanwhile, the Ecuadorian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ricardo Patiño, denied that Palacio had been granted political or diplomatic asylum and commented that maybe he had been granted territorial refuge. He stated in declarations made to the news outlet, that after speaking with the American Ambassador, Adam Namm, and the national diplomatic representative in the USA, Nathalie Cely, the US Department of State could not confirm Palacio's status.

Palacio said that the asylum has in fact been granted. "Ricardo Patiño does not know that the Department of State is not in charge of granting asylum in the United States. The body that grants it is the Citizenship and Immigration Services. Patiño does not know that the Immigration Services is forbidden by law from informing other State institutions about who has received asylum," he pointed out during an interview with Radio Sonorama.

On 16 February of this year, Palacio was sentenced to three years in prison in the El Universo case, after which the President of the Republic granted those involved "forgiveness but not forgetfulness". Palacio, however, was then summoned to make a statement by the Prosecutor in a process related to the events of 10 September 2010, which made him decide to leave the country.

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