Ecuador President Rafael Correa announced yesterday that he would pardon the columnist and three publishers of the newspaper El Universo that were found guilty of libel against the government. The transgressors were facing three years in prison and were ordered to pay Correa $10 million each in damages—a decision upheld by the Ecuador’s National Court of Justice in mid-February.
Correa filed suit last year over an opinion column written by chief opinion editor, Emilio Palacio in 2011 and titled “No a las mentiras” (No more lies), which was published by brothers Carlos, César and Nicolás Perez. The column referred to the president as a “dictator” and accused him of ordering troops to “fire at will” on a hospital full of civilians during a September 2010 police revolt. The trial provoked a backlash from international media and human rights groups who accused the president of stifling free speech.
Correa responded in yesterday’s televised address, saying the case was a fight for justice against the “dictatorship of the media.” The president dropped another libel case against two other journalists who wrote a book that said companies tied to his older brother had $600 million in contracts with the Ecuadorian state.
But Correa’s address did little to placate his critics. Carlos Lauria of the Committee to Protect Journalists said that Correa is acting more like a king than a president, and is “using archaic and outdated laws to silence critical journalists.” Human Rights Watch’s director for Latin America, Jose Miguel Vivanco, said the case “will certainly contribute to an environment of self-censorship.”