Colombia court throws man in prison over slanderous comment on news website

Colombia’s Supreme Court sentenced a Cali citizen to a year and a half in prison over a slanderous comment the man had left on a local news website.

The decision establishes a law that might force users of the Internet to act more responsible, when they leave comments.

“What can you expect of a rat like Escalante who even Club Colombia and Comfenalco sacked for her mismanagement (…) a thief uncovering the thieves? Bah!”

In November 2008 Gonzalo Lopez left a comment on an article published by Cali newspaper El Pais in which he accused local administration official Gloria Escalante of being a thief.

“What can you expect of a rat like Escalante who even Club Colombia and Comfenalco sacked for her mismanagement (…) a thief uncovering the thieves? Bah!” said Lopez on the local news website under a pseudonym.

Escalante, then administrative and the human resources manager of public utilities company Emcali, subsequently sued the commenter for slander for which he got convicted by a local court.

Even though the comment was made under a pseudonym using an anonymous email account, authorities traced the IP address to Lopez’s office, according to El Pais.

The man appealed the conviction before the Supreme Court who upheld the guilty verdict, sentencing Lopez to more than 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine.

The director of the Colombian press freedom foundation FLIP, Pedro Vaca, criticized the verdict, calling the sentence disproportionate to newspaper El Espectador.

The director warned that the conviction might discourage internet users from leaving comments on websites as comments regularly are similarly inflammatory as the one of Lopez. Vaca views the comment as an expression of opinion rather than facts or injury, he said.


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