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JUNE 2, 2003

Rodrigo Fierro Benítez, El Comercio

Fierro, a columnist for the Quito-based daily El Comercio, was sued for criminal defamation by León Febres-Cordero, former president of Ecuador. The lawsuit stemmed from a May 29 opinion piece Fierro wrote for El Comercio titled "Febres-Cordero: en su sitio" (Febres-Cordero: in his place), which accused the former president of colluding with other politicians to commit high-level financial malfeasance.

Contending that Fierro's piece had damaged his family's and his own reputation, Febres-Cordero, who is currently a parliamentary deputy for the Social Christian Party, filed a criminal defamation lawsuit on June 2, requesting damages of US$1 million and a two-year prison sentence for Fierro.

On September 19, Judge Luis Mora sentenced Fierro to six months in prison and ordered him to pay legal costs of US$1,000 to Febres-Cordero's lawyer. According to Fierro, Judge Mora also ordered him to pay damages in an amount yet to be determined. On September 22, Fierro appealed his sentence. The journalist remains free while he awaits a ruling from the Superior Court of Justice in the capital, Quito.