Ecuador’s president urged to withdraw lawsuits against reporters

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) criticized President Rafael Correa for suing journalists and media executives, and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged him to withdraw the legal complaints.

In an open letter to Correa, RSF’s secretary general, Jean-François Julliard, calls such legal actions “excessive” while acknowledging the “gravity” of the journalists’ accusations against the president and the “insulting nature” of an article published by El Universo.

What do you hope to achieve by demanding such exorbitant amounts in damages, or even imprisonment? Do you think this will help to prevent insult and defamation?” RSF’s leader asked. “We oppose the imposition of prison sentences for press offences with all our strength.”

In late February, Correa sued two journalists for $10 million for writing a book about their investigation of millions of dollars of alleged contracts between the government and companies linked to Fabricio Correa, the president’s older brother. Three weeks later, the president sued executives of the newspaper El Universo and editorial writer Emilio Palacio over an opinion column and sought three years in prison for the editors and $80 million in damages from the newspapers.

IAPA described the president’s attitude as “abusive, ridiculous, and out of line.” Correa defended himself, accusing the newspaper and journalists of mudslinging, the Associated Press says.

Human Rights Watch also called for Ecuador to repeal “provisions on defamation, libel and insult” from its penal code, Terra reports. The Ecuadorian Association of Newspaper Editors (AEDEP) said the president’s legal actions could lead to prior censorship, “since opinion articles would have to pass through a filtering system that may prevent or discourage its publication,” the Public Agency for News of Ecuador and South America says.

» BBC Mundo (Ecuador: legal fight intensifies between Correa and the press (Spanish) )
» El Diario (Lawsuit against newspaper revives debate on press freedom law (Spanish))

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.