Ecuadorean journalist facing prison seeks asylum in U.S.

A former Ecuadorean journalist facing prison and millions of dollars in fines is seeking asylum in the United States, reported the Associated Press on Wednesday, Feb. 8.

Emilio Palacio, who worked as a columnist for the opposition newspaper El Universo, fled to Miami in August. Palacio, along with the newspaper's three owners and the newspaper itself, were fined $40 million and the journalists are facing three years in prison after being sentenced in July 2011 for libeling President Rafael Correa. The libel accusations stem from a column, "No to lies," published in February 2011.

It could take months for a decision about whether Palacio and his family can remain in the United States, explained the news agency EFE. His case, heard in court Wednesday, alleges he is the victim of persecution, harassment and threats.

Palacio's asylum request comes one day after an Ecuadorean judge on Tuesday, Feb. 7, ordered two journalists to pay $1 million each in moral damages for defaming Correa in a book they wrote titled "El Gran Hermano" (Big Brother) that the judge said caused the president "great humiliation." The Inter American Press Association called the sentence "disproportionate" and a "hard blow to investigative reporting."

Palacio's case and others prompted the Committee to Protect Journalists to release a report criticizing the deterioration of press freedom in Ecuador under Correa's administration, which has launched an offensive against freedom of expression, according to press freedom advocates.