Ecuadoran journalist sentenced to prison

New York, November 28, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists is dismayed by reports that an Ecuadoran journalist was sentenced to a six-month prison term after being found guilty of criminal defamation.

On December 15, 2009, Carlos Ignacio Cedeño, host of the program “Diálogo con Carlos Cedeño” on the Sono Onda radio station, allegedly accused Dr. Melitón García of stealing gurneys and microscopes from a public hospital to use in his private clinic, news reports said. The journalist said that although he mentioned the alleged theft on his program, his guest panelist was the one who used the doctor’s name. In November 2010, Cedeño was sentenced by a criminal court in Manabí to one year in prison for criminal defamation, but the sentence was reduced to six months on appeal on October 6.

“We are concerned by the prison sentence handed to Carlos Ignacio Cedeño,” said CPJ’s deputy director Robert Mahoney. “Criminal defamation should not be used against the press. Civil courts are the appropriate avenue for those seeking redress.”

The journalist told CPJ that he left Sono Onda radio station to host a program at another local station, Radio Escándalo, but said that after the verdict, his show had been cancelled and he had been unable to find work elsewhere. He told CPJ that he had gone into hiding because police had issued a warrant for his arrest.

Fernando Farfán, Cedeño’s lawyer, told the local press group Andean Foundation for Media Observation & Study that he would appeal the criminal sentence. García’s lawyer, Tito Livio Mendoza, also said he would continue to pursue the case and that he was preparing a civil suit of at least US$1 million to demand reparations for the doctor.

CPJ research shows that Ecuador’s criminal defamation laws have been systematically used to punish critical journalists. Ecuadoran law runs counter to the emerging consensus in Latin America that civil remedies provide adequate redress in cases of alleged defamation. In December 2009, the Costa Rican Supreme Court eliminated prison terms for criminal defamation. One month earlier, in November 2009, the Argentine Congress repealed criminal defamation provisions in the penal code. And in April 2009, Brazil’s Supreme Federal Tribunal annulled the 1967 Press Law, a measure that had imposed harsh penalties for libel and slander.