PUEBLA, Mexico (March 12, 2013)—A 30-day prison term handed down to an Ecuadorean journalist on a contempt charge was protested today by the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), which called it an abuse of authority to the detriment of press freedom.
Judge Bayardo García sentenced Yaco Martínez to the prison term and fined him $30,000 for libeling María Helena Villareal, former governor of the Ecuadorean province of El Carchi on the border with Colombia.
The charge against Martínez, president of the newspaper La Nación in that province, arose from a news item published in September 2012 titled “Person declared persona non grata to remain in charge of the government,” in which it was explained that the governor was on vacation. Villareal regarded this news item as damaging to her authority and misleading.
The chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Claudio Paolillo, declared that the IAPA rejects “any kind of court ruling that makes the work of journalists a criminal offense when they are reporting on matters concerning the conduct of public officials involved in affairs of public interest.”
Paolillo, editor of the Montevideo, Uruguay, weekly Búsqueda, said that regarding this conviction the IAPA not only insists that the courts must apply the doctrine of “malice aforethought” or a journalist’s lack of intent to offend, but also in the sense of proportionality, “as the high level of some fines, as in this case, have as its objective a muzzling of the press.”
Paollio went on to say that libel and contempt laws are a contradiction in modern democracies and “enable abuses of press freedom to be committed” as in this case, for which reason he called on legislators in Ecuador to eradicate them from the national legislation and not allow new gags to be introduced through the pending Communication Law, soon to be debated in the national Congress.
Martínez is in the process of filing an appeal and seeking recusal of the judge on the grounds that there is a connection between a close family member of his and the former governor.
The IAPA is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 print publications from throughout the Western Hemisphere and is based in Miami, Florida. For more information please go to http://www.sipiapa.org.