Ruling Against Ecuadorean Newspaper El Universo a Step Backwards for Press Freedom | Freedom House

Ruling Against Ecuadorean Newspaper El Universo a Step Backwards for Press Freedom

Washington

Freedom House strongly condemns Ecuadorean Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the sentence against newspaper El Universo brought by President Rafael Correa. Yesterday, Quito’s high court rejected the appeal filed by the newspaper and upheld the prison sentence of three years against three executives, and a fine for $40 million for libel against President Correa. The verdict is not subject to further appeals.

President 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 calls Correa a “dictator” and holds him responsible for the deaths of civilians during September 30, 2010’s police revolt.

“This is a disturbing step backwards for freedom of expression in Ecuador,” said Viviana Giacaman, Director for Latin America Programs at Freedom House. “This ruling will have a chilling effect not only for the press but for all dissent in the country.”

The judicial process that led to the verdict was highly controversial and left many questioning the independence and transparency of the judiciary. In the lower court, a temporary judge, Judge Juan Paredes reviewed the submissions made July 19 and drafted the 156-page sentence in less than two days, notifying the parties of his decision on July 20, 2011.

Judge Monica Encalada, a recused judge who was involved in the original sentencing, stated earlier this week that Correa’s attorney was highly involved in drafting the ruling, as the defense team for El Universo claimed during the first ruling.

“The way the judicial process was conducted leaves serious doubts that there was full respect to the due process of law. Serious limitations to freedom of expression compounded with lack of respect for the rule of law can lead to a serious deterioration of democracy in Ecuador,” Giacaman added.

Freedom House is also concerned about the climate of polarization and violence surrounding the case, including attacks against journalists covering yesterday’s hearing. Pro-government protesters became violent and claimed the sentence was justified.

Press freedom has deteriorated significantly over the last year in Ecuador. 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. President Rafael Correa has engaged in regular harsh verbal diatribes against the press, calling them his “greatest political enemy,” “ignorant,” “corrupt” and “deceitful.”

Ecuador is rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House’s annual global assessment of political rights and civil liberties and Partly Free in Freedom of the Press 2011.



For more information on Ecuador, visit:

Freedom in the World 2011: Ecuador

Freedom of the Press 2011: Ecuador



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