Newspaper fined millions in suit by Ecuador’s president will continue publishing

The directors of El Universo newspaper in Ecuador announced that the newspaper would continue circulating and reporting, in spite of the July 20 ruling that sentenced the paper, its directors, and an editor to $40 million in damages and three years in prison.

El Universo will continue doing its work of reporting with objectivity and independence and continue to provide a necessary space for citizens to express their ideas freely, without intervention from the state, as it has been doing for the last 90 years,” said director Carlos Pérez, in a press release after the ruling.

Both El Comercio and Hoy newspapers both modified their editorial pages July 22nd in solidarity with El Universo, La Nación reports. El Comercio whited out the text of its editorial page and including only headlines and a message in defense of freedom of expression. Hoy printed its columns in an unreadable font, with the caption “What would happen if you couldn’t express your opinions? (…) They are trying to silence opinions that are free, pluralistic, independent, and critical.”

According to EFE, the president refuses to withdraw his complaint: “We are making history here, friends. We will not retreat,” Correa said.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) called the sentence “a major setback for free speech in Ecuador” that violates the country’s international human rights obligations.

Additionally, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) stressed that the ruling is not only in violation of regional freedom of expression standards but “generates self-censorship and a notable chilling effect that impacts not only the individuals convicted but Ecuadorian society as a whole.”

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) has asked the IACHR to monitor “the serious press freedom and free speech situation in Ecuador” and to “insist to those in power that laws that make criticism and expression of opinions criminal offenses be amended.”

El Universo, three of its directors, and a columnist were convicted to three years in prison each and $40 million in damages for the Feb. 6 editorial “NO to lies,” which accused the president of giving orders to "fire at will" against a hospital during a police rebellion last September.

See the full text of the ruling against El Universo in Spanish here.

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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