Judge sentences Ecuadorian journalist Fernando Villavicencio to 18 months in prison

By Diego Cruz

Ecuadorian authorities issued last week an order to detain journalist and activist Fernando Villavicencio after he was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Villavicencio was found guilty of defaming President Rafael Correa, press freedom organization Fundamedios reported.

A judge from the National Court of Justice also issued a warrant for the imprisonment of Cléver Jiménez – an opposition party legislator who was also found guilty of defaming Correa and sentenced to the same term as Villavicencio – and Carlos Figueroa, an activist sentenced to only six months in prison.

In 2011, the three men filed a complaint against Correa before Ecuador’s Attorney General for allegedly having ordered an armed intervention into a hospital for law enforcement officers during a police uprising in 2010, which they described as a crime against humanity. However, prosecutors said they did not find evidence to support the accusation and rejected the complaint, describing it as “malicious and imprudent.” Correa responded by filing a counter lawsuit.

The court's order instructs the National Police to locate and capture the three men and suspends Jiménez’s citizenship rights for the duration of his 18-month sentence, according to El Universo. The men must also offer their apologies to Correa and pay him $140,000 in damages.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Villavicencio regularly writes investigative reports on government corruption – especially concerning the oil industry – for the critical digital publication Plan V. He also works as an advisor for Jiménez and participates in opposition political activities. The organization Fundamedios believes Correa’s government is persecuting him for his work as a journalist and a political activist.

On December last year, a group of officials and an armed team from the government raided Villavicencio’s home and confiscated his files and computer. These events were satirized in a cartoon by Xavier Bonilla of newspaper El Universo, which was deemed a violation of  Ecuador’s Communications Law and resulted in a fine and an order to issue a correction.

The National Police has requested Interpol’s assistance in detaining Villavicencio, who has been in the United States since Jan. 10, El Universo reported.

That same day, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued precautionary measures on behalf of Villavivencio, Jiménez and Figeroa and demanded the suspension of the detention order against them, Ecuadorian newspaper El Comercio reported.

“The imposition of a prison sentence in the current matter will irreparably damage freedom of expression,” the Inter-American Commissioners argued in the document announcing the measures.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.