At a press conference Thursday, former El Universo journalist Emilio Palacio, of Ecuador, announced that he had been granted political asylum in the U.S. after waiting seven months.
Palacio received notification of the decision on August 17, just 24 hours after Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa had controversially granted asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, though Palacios declined to draw parallels between the two cases.
Before fleeing to the U.S., Palacio was facing a three-year prison sentence and a $40 million penalty for an article he wrote referring to President Rafael Correa as a “dictator.” The article criticized Correa’s handling of a police revolt in September 2010.
Reacting to the U.S. government’s decision to grant him asylum, Palacio expressed relief. “I am grateful to the U.S. government for the support they have given me, not only for me and my family,” he said. “I can make plans for my life and even more for what this means for Ecuadorian journalists.”
The libel case soured an already troubled relationship between the U.S. and Ecuador as the U.S. government criticized Correa’s government for media censorship. In February, Correa pardoned Palacio after an international outcry from human rights and free speech activists. Activists have maintained that Ecuador’s policies toward journalists are stifling free speech and freedom of the press and intimidating political opposition.
Palacio arrived in the U.S. a year ago with his wife and two children, who will also benefit from asylum. Attorney Sandra Grossman, assigned to Palacios case, explained that a political exile in the U.S. is eligible to request a work permit and gain a path to U.S. citizenship.