Wife of journalist with arrest warrant pays compensation to Ecuador’s president

Accompanied by her children, friends and supporter, Verónica Saráuz, wife of Ecuadorian journalist Fernando Villavicencio, certified before the Civil Judicial Unit of Quito a payment of US $47,306 in damages to Rafael Correa.

The trial that resulted in the payment to Correa began in 2011, when the president opened a lawsuit against Villavicencio, former assemblyman Cléver Jiménez and physician Carlos Figueroa for defamation (injuria judicial). The three had denounced Correa of committing crimes against humanity for allegedly ordering an armed incursion in the Police Hospital, during the police revolt of Sept. 30, 2010, Fundamedios published.

Villavicencio, as well as Jiménez and Figueroa, received a sentence of 18 months in prison. But in August 2014, a court dropped the sentence to 12 months. Figueroa complied with his sentence, but Villavicencio and Jiménez took refuge in Amazonia until their prison time prescribed in March 2015, El Comercio reported.

Consequently, on May 17, 2015, Judge Edwin Ceballos ratified the payment of US $141,000 to Correa, distributed among the three defendants, El Comercio reported.

So that their assets were not seized, Villavicencio’s family managed to raise the money through the campaign “One dollar for Correa,” with which they were able to raise some of the money, coming up with the rest through loans from friends and relatives, according to what Saráuz told the newspaper.

After the payment of the damages was made on Jan. 26, the journalist’s lawyer, Julio César Sarango, asked the court to withdraw the precautionary measures against his defendant, Notimundo reported.

Saráuz said Villavicencio has been in hiding since Dec. 21, after the Contentious Tax Court revoked the habeas corpus he was granted in late November 2016 for another case, according to El Universo.

The journalist’s wife also told Ecuador Transparente that they have received a series of threats against her family, so she made Correa responsible for anything that could happen to them or her husband.

On Jan. 5, 2017, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) asked the Ecuadorian government to report on the case of Villavicencio, Jiménez and Figueroa, and the precautionary measures it requested for them in March 2014, the same ones it ratified in August 2016. The agency gave the government 20 days to rule on the matter, El Comercio reported.

In its report, the IACHR said that “the imposition of a custodial sentence in the present case creates a serious risk of irreparable damage to freedom of expression,” El Comercio reported.

In this regard, El Telégrafo published that the Correa government lamented and rejected the IACHR’s position, arguing that this body does not have the authorities to issue the precautionary measures requested by Villavicencio.

The journalist and former labor union leader, along with Jiménez, have also faced a trial since 2013, for allegedly hacking the emails of public officials and releasing confidential government information on the litigation between the state and transnational oil company Chevron.

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.