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Court acquits Ecuadorian journalist, ending years-long court battle

On 26 March 2013, the Criminal Division of the National Court of Justice acquitted journalist Freddy Aponte - previously sentenced to five years in prison for the crime of fraudulent bankruptcy in a trial initiated by Bolívar Castillo, former mayor of the city Loja, located on the southern border of Ecuador. The lawsuit had been the result of the non-payment of compensation of approximately US$55,000 to Castillo in a previous trial for "moral damage", which in turn came out of a trial for slander.

After three hours of hearings and deliberation, Judges Gladys Terán, Richard Villagómez and José Luis Terán unanimously declared: "The sentence is annulled because of a clear contradiction of Article 40 of the Criminal Procedure Code and 576 and 578 of the Penal Code and an erroneous interpretation of Article 509 of the Criminal Procedure Code".

According to Adolfo Moreno, Aponte's attorney, "a process had to be followed to determine that there was fraud in Aponte's declaration of bankruptcy, but this did not happen. Without a declaration of fraudulent bankruptcy, it was an act of clear abuse".

In this sense, the Criminal Division of the NCJ agreed with the journalist's defense when it declared that "the civil judge's decision declaring the insolvency of Freddy Aponte does not exist" and that this is "a sine qua non requisite to initiate criminal proceedings".

After learning of the ruling, Aponte was pleased and declared that justice has prevailed this time. He stressed that he had been waiting for this ruling for five years and that it is an example for citizens to not lose faith and the desire to continue fighting.

Moreno stated that the opposite ruling would have constituted an abuse of justice and the persecution of a journalist for doing his job. He also recalled that this trial had stemmed from criticism Aponte made of the then mayor, on a radio programme, so there had also been the aim of silencing a reporter.

Meanwhile, Carlos Ortega, the prosecution's attorney, said he will discuss with his client the possibility of filing an extraordinary action for protection, as well as suing the judges "Who may have perverted the course of justice by ruling against a particular law".

On 20 August 2012, the Associate Judges Division of the Provincial Court of Justice of Loja sentenced Aponte to five years in prison after upholding the first instance sentence issued on 9 August 2011 by the Second Court of Criminal Guarantees of Loja.

It is worth recalling that this was the third criminal trial the former mayor had initiated against the journalist. The first lawsuit began in June 2007, when Castillo accused Aponte of allegedly calling him a "thief" in his opinion program "Primer Plano" on Radio Luz y Vida in Loja. Aponte has questioned the rulings issued against him by local tribunals since the beginning of the proceedings, stating there were family ties between the accuser and the judges who handled his cases, which could have influenced their judgments.

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