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Ecuadorean journalist flees to Miami, seeks asylum in US

A journalist from Ecuador fled from his native country in August with his family after receiving threats from people allied with the president of Ecuador. The journalist is now seeking asylum in the United States, claiming that he is the victim of persecution aimed at stifling free expression in Ecuador, according to his petition in immigration court in Miami.

The journalist faces prison and millions of dollars in fines in Ecuador related to a newspaper column in an opposition newspaper that raised questions about the Ecuadorean government. The journalist was one of four men, which includes three of the newspaper's owners, sentenced to three years in prison.

The newspaper and the four men were also fined $42 million for a February 2011 op-ed column, which was reportedly critical of the country's president. The Inter-American Press Association says the Ecuadorean president's actions in pursuing a libel claim against the paper was a "systematic and hostile campaign to do away with the independent press."

Generally, individuals can seek asylum in the U.S. based upon a fear that returning to the person's home country would lead to persecution on the basis of political opinion, nationality, religion, race or certain affiliations with a social group. The 58-year-old journalist recently appeared in a hearing in Miami before U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services officials on the application for asylum in the United States.

The journalist says that the libel prosecution in his home country that led to a prison sentence and enormous fines was a farce. He says that he has been threatened by people close to the Ecuadorean president, offering an email that says, "I hope you come back in a coffin and your wretched children be assassinated."

Ecuador's consul in Miami says the application for asylum is without merit and the journalist is free to return to his home county. Meanwhile, the criminal libel case in Ecuador is on appeal.

It could take weeks or months before immigration officials make a decision in the asylum application.

Miami immigration lawyers are aware that many applications for asylum are originally denied. Generally, a rejection of an application for asylum can, at times, be followed by removal proceedings in immigration court. It is important for immigrants to consider speaking with a seasoned immigration attorney when considering asylum in the United States, or raising asylum as a defense to a removal proceeding.

Source: USA Today, "Ecuador newspaper columnist seeks U.S. asylum," J. Pat Carter, Feb. 8, 2012

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