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Councillor in Ecuador gets jail time for a tweet criticising local mayor

This statement was originally published on fundamedios.org on 6 January 2016.

On January 4, 2016, Judge Oswaldo Saritama sentenced town councillor Jeannine Cruz to 30 days in prison, after the mayor of Loja, José Bolívar Castillo, filed a lawsuit against her over alleged expressions of discredit and dishonor after she posted a video and a message on her personal Twitter account @Jeanninecruzz. Cruz will also have to pay a fine. The judge declared the councillor “author and responsible” for a fourth class violation under Article 396 of the Penal Code, which prescribes 15 to 30 days in prison for the person who “by any means, utters expressions to discredit or dishonor another”.

On leaving the hearing, Cruz deplored the sentence before the media and stated that “this is a terrible precedent for my country, for freedom of speech, because as authorities we are limited in our power to audit (…) I will continue monitoring more rigorously the arrogance, corruption and illegalities”, according to statements collected by the newspaper El Universo. Her attorney, Adolfo Moreno, stated they will appeal this decision and did not rule out taking the case to international courts.

In statements to the newspaper El Comercio, Castillo stated that he was not only interested in defending his name, but also in setting a precedent, and so requested a moderate sentence.​ “I requested my lawyers that they do not file a complaint for a crime but for a violation, so that the maximum penalty may be imprisonment for 30 days. Although what Cruz wrote in her tweet is a serious offense, slander that is punishable with up to three years in prison”, said the mayor.

In the lawsuit, backed by the council's former trustee prosecutor, Álvaro Reyes Abarca, the mayor, acting as a public official and as a citizen, stated “there is a clear offense against honor, as the statements made by the accused aim to achieve only one thing; to discredit the plaintiff, but using the social networks for a basic purpose, using technology as an instrument to verbally attack, dishonor and insult the image of the accuser”. Castillo also referred to the use of “technopolitics” as causing serious harm to the constitutional right to a good name and image, and noted that Twitter creates even more impact, as the repercussion that the network generates among the population is globally known.

On 21 September, Cruz – who is known for denouncing alleged irregularities in the mayor's administration – published in the social network: “Mayor José Bolívar Castillo, what the people of Loja request is that you stop lying and stealing…”, with a link to a video posted on her YouTube account, where she questions an emergency decree by Castillo regarding the Master Plan for Clean Water. In an interview with RayuelaRadio, Cruz said she is the victim of political persecution because of her auditing and financial work, but that she will not stop.

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