Ecuador sentences newspaper directors to jail and millions in fines in president’s libel suit

A judge sentenced three directors and a columnist at El Universo daily to three years each in prison and $40 million in fines for defaming President Rafael Correa in a February 6 editorial, CNN reports.

On July 20, in his ruling, the judge named editor Emilio Palacio, author of the editorial “NO to lies,” as the perpetrator of the crime and executives Carlos Pérez, César Pérez, and Nicolás Pérez as “coauthor accomplices,” AFP explains. The editorial accused the president of giving orders to "fire at will" against a hospital during a police rebellion last September.

On July 21, El Universo published a white front page with the headline “Convicted” and an anti-authoritarian quote from author Ayn Rand. The paper also announced that the conviction and sentence would be appealed.

Freedom of expression groups like Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) condemned the ruling, echoing previous calls for Correa to withdraw his suit.

IAPA called the sentence a “serious blow to press freedom” and RSF said the ruling “suggests that the authorities are pursuing a strategy aimed at silencing the country’s media, which are heavily criticized by President Correa in his radio and TV broadcasts.”

According to the BBC, Correa’s lawyer, however, said the president celebrated the ruling as “from now on any citizen can demand that their good name and honor be respected, which is true freedom of expression.”

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.