Ecuador journalist Emilio Palacio granted asylum in the US

Columnist Emilio Palacio outside the court Emilio Palacio says Ecuadorean journalists continue to be intimidated by Correa's government

A columnist from the main opposition newspaper in Ecuador has been granted political asylum in the United States.

Emilio Palacio fled to the US a year ago, after being sentenced to jail in a libel case brought by President Rafael Correa.

Mr Palacio said he was a victim of political persecution.

Ecuador has been at the centre of another asylum case since WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sought refuge in its London embassy in June.

Mr Assange, who is wanted in Sweden for rape allegations, was granted asylum in Ecuador, but remains at the embassy as the British government refuses to give him safe passage.

Critics of left-wing President Correa pointed out that while his government claimed that Mr Assange was a victim of political persecution it attacked press freedom in his own country.

Emilio Palacio, a well-known columnist for El Universo newspaper, said journalists in Ecuador worked under the permanent threat of going to jail.

"I am very grateful to the American government not only for what it has done for me and my family, but also for what this decision means for Ecuadorean journalists," he told the AFP news agency.

Pardon

Mr Palacio fled to Miami last year after a court sentenced him and the three newspaper owners - Carlos, Cesar and Nicolas Perez - to three years in jail each.

Julian Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy in London Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy for over two months

They were also ordered to pay $40m in fines and damages.

Their lawyers said the punishment was disproportionate and appealed.

The sentence was confirmed by a court in February, but President Correa announced shortly after that he had decided to pardon the accused.

Mr Correa brought the lawsuit after an article in El Universo questioned an army raid to rescue him from a violent protest by striking police officers in September 2010.

In an article published in El Universo in February, Mr Palacio referred to Mr Correa as "the dictator" and said the president had ordered soldiers to fire on the hospital.

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