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Provincial leader sues Ecuadorian paper for "spiritual damage"

(Fundamedios/IFEX) - 21 November 2012 - On 21 November 2012, the newspaper El Telégrafo reported on a lawsuit filed against Orlando Pérez, the paper's director, by Salvador Quishpe, prefect of Zamora Chinchipe province, for having allegedly caused him "spiritual damage" in a 21 March article published under the title "Leader Supports Mining." He is requesting compensation of US$5 million dollars.

According to the paper, which is owned by the State, Quishpe filed the lawsuit on 3 September. This is the second trial initiated by this official against the newspaper's director.

As in the previous lawsuit - filed on 16 August by the Third Civil Court of Pichincha - Quishpe said that amends for the "spiritual damage" against him and his honor should be made in the form of US$5 million in compensation. He argued that his 'peace of mind' was taken from him, "I have been stigmatized as corrupt and as having double standards, a scoundrel, all of which changed my life plan", reads the statement released by the newspaper.

The article stated, among other things, that "Salvador Quishpe, current prefect of Zamora, created the project Intercultural Mining Dialogue in 2011, along with a Dutch company, sponsored by that country's Embassy. On 22 February 2011, he created the civil company Kenkuim-Kurinunka to explore for minerals in the area of Conguime, without ruling out the area of Pangui, where the Mirador Project is currently being developed".

The prefect stated in the lawsuit that the El Telégrafo director "never ordered any corrects to that information" and that "the article makes it clear that they never checked the information with the source, or carried out an investigation."

The lawsuit has already been admitted and sent to the Tenth Civil Court of Pichincha.

Information concerning public officials' management is specially protected by the right to freedom of expression, and liability for such information can only be imposed in exceptional cases. In this respect, public officials are exposed to a higher level of public scrutiny, and should be more tolerant of criticism by the press and the public. However, this principle has been constantly questioned by central government officials, who have been the first to use grounds such as "spiritual damage".

Fundamedios appeals for a stop to prosecuting journalists' work and for respect for international standards that protect free speech.

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