Ecuador court jails journalists for 3 years over Presidential libel

By 02 August, 2011

On July 21st a court ruling to jail four opposition newspaper figures and fine them and the newspaper for $40 million, has provoked many concerns about free speech in Ecuador.

President of Ecuador Rafael Correa has initiated a lawsuit against the newspaper El Universo as it published in February an article stating that Correa ordered solders during the mutiny in September last year to fire without warning on the hospital full of civilians. The President denied this in court.

Three directors Carlos, Cesar and Nicolas Perez and former columnist Emilio Palacio were sentenced to three years in jail and plan to file an appeal over the court’s decision reported Reuters.

“This sets a precedent that will help them to think a thousand times before using proxies to damage people’s reputations,” Correa told reporters as quoted by Reuters.

Director of International Press Institute Alison Bethel McKenzie said: “We are outraged by the court’s sentence, and we condemn it as completely out of proportion to the ‘crime’ committed. Civil remedies are both sufficient to deal with allegations of defamation and more in line with international standards…” as cited on IPI website.

The State of Independent Media in Latin America report published by Douglas Farah in late July said that when Correa came to power in 2007 the Government owned only one radio station, and now it owns five television channels, four radio stations, two newspapers, and four magazines.

“Freedom of the press is alive and well in our country… Mr. Palacio’s (one of the journalists condemned) work can more accurately be called a smear campaign. That’s not part of the valuable journalistic expression that enhances a public discourse,” said Fernando Alvarado Espinel in a note published by the Washington Post. Fernando Alvarado Espinel is a writer at a national secretary of communication of the presidency of Ecuador. He also said that more than 35 newspapers, 890 radio stations and many privately owned television networks work in the country.

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