Final decision on case against Ecuadoran newspaper El Universo remains unsettled as judge falls ill

The outcome of Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa's lawsuit against the newspaper El Universo remains unsettled after a scheduled hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 24, was suspended when one of the trial's three judges got sick, according to the news agency EFE.

The National Court of Justice will now decide on Jan. 26 whether or not to uphold the sentence of three years in prison and a fine of $40 million for thee directors of the newspaper and an ex-columnist, reported El Comercio. The case centers around the opinion piece "No to the lies" that ex-columnist Emilio Palacio wrote, in which he equates the president with a dictator and accuses him of committing crimes against humanity during the repression of the Sept. 30, 2010, police protests.

On his Twitter account, President Correa rejected newspaper director Carlos Pérez's offer to sign an apology if the president would stop pressing charges against the journalists, comply with the existing freedom of information laws, and allow the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the United Nations to consult on the pending communications bill, reported the newspaper El Universo.

Meanwhile, the brothers César and Nicolás Pérez, directors of the newspaper El Universo, traveled to Washington, D.C., and Geneva, Switzerland, to meet with international organizations, explain the charges against them and ask for help, reported the publication. The brothers planned to meet with the UN's High Commissioner for Human RightsUNESCO, and the International Commission of Jurists.

The case has drawn international attention. It has already been brought before the Inter-American Court for Human Rights, the NGOs Human Rights Foundation and Human Rights Watch have advocated for the decriminalization of libel in Ecuador, and the World Association of Newspaper and News Publishers and the Committee to Project Journalists have expressed concern over the deteriorating state of press freedom in the Andean country.

Correa's government has launched a smear campaign against the Organization of American States' Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and proposed limits to the rapporteur's ability to take action in the region.