Correa Plans to Pardon El Universo Journalists in Libel Case

Freedom House welcomes Ecuador president Rafael Correa’s announcement that he will pardon three executives and one journalist from the newspaper El Universo, who were convicted for libel. Correa also claims he will pardon two other journalists, which he sued for publishing a book investigating contracts Correa’s brother had with the Ecuadorean government. Despite this announcement, the climate in Ecuador still remains hostile for media, as demonstrated by Correa’s speech yesterday where he said they will “forgive” but “not forget,” that the sentences against El Universo demonstrated that the journalists had lied, and that Ecuadoreans can use the law to stand against the “corrupt press.”

“We are happy to see this outcome, but we remain concerned about the overall climate for freedom of expression in the country,” said Viviana Giacaman, Director for Latin America Programs at Freedom House. “There is a latent threat against dissent that will condition what journalists and citizens are willing to say from now on.”

Earlier this month, Ecuador’s Supreme Court upheld the sentence against the newspaper El Universo, rejecting the appeal filed by the newspaper and upholding a three-year prison sentence against three executives and a fine for $40 million for libel against Correa.  Correa sued El Universo owners, Carlos, Cesar and Nicolas Perez, as well as Emilio Palacio, a former columnist of the newspaper and author of an El Universo opinion piece "No to the lies," where he called Correa a “dictator” and held him responsible for the deaths of civilians during September 30, 2010’s police revolt. The judicial process that led to the verdict was highly controversial and left many questioning the independence and transparency of the judiciary. Hostile rhetoric against the press by public officials, particularly the president, as well as attacks and intimidation of journalists and the use of defamation laws pose some of the most serious threats to press freedom. Correa has engaged in regular harsh verbal diatribes against the press, calling them his “greatest political enemy,” “ignorant,” “corrupt” and “deceitful.”

Learn more:

Freedom in the World 2011: Ecuador

Freedom of the Press 2011: Ecuador