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Citizen tries to sue Ecuador's president for libel, Congress rejects his petition

As tempers simmered over the sentencing of newspaper employees for defaming Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, one citizen decided to file a similar lawsuit. But this time it was against President Correa for comments the head of state made about him, Hoy reports. Executives and a columnist of El Universo were sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay $40 million in damages to the president.

Édgar Corral argued that Correa referred to him as a “land trafficker” during his Saturday program on January 29. He requested a sentence of two years in prison and a $10 million award for damages, said RTU, an online news channel.

However, the request to prosecute Correa was archived by Congress with 44 votes in favor of filing suit and 60 votes opposed, said El Universo. Legislators debated for two hours during which representative Paco Moncayo asked, “Why does the head of state have the sole power to insult and prosecute?" reported El Commercio. “He’s the only one with a mother, wife and children? He’s the only one whose honor can get hurt?”

Another legislator, Andrés Páez, read a list of 166 insults in Spanish made by the president during his Saturday program, according to Entomo Inteligente. In alphabetical order, they ranged from "childish" to “traitor”, and included “vulture”, “unbalanced”, “idiot”, and “limited”. Some were unpublishable, while others were elaborate, like “constipated face” or “sex counselors who are virgins.”

Meanwhile, the Ecuadorian government issued a nine-minute national radio and television address over three consecutive days, from July 22-24, 2011. They explained and justified the lawsuit that Correa filed against El Universo, reported Fundamedios, a foundation that studies the media. “The president simply defended his honor after being accused of murder and genocide without evidence.”

According to a poll released by CMS, funded by Hoy, and carried in 10 cities, 68 percent of respondents rejected the prison sentence against the executive of El Universo and 73 percent considered the $40 million damage award extravagant.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.

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