Two journalists were ordered on Tuesday by Judge Maria Mercedes Portilla of the province of Pichincha to pay a total of $ 2 million to President Rafael Correa, on the grounds that they had caused him “moral damage.” Judge Portilla issued the sentence to journalists Juan Carlos Calderón and Christian Zurita over their book El Gran Hermano, in which they expose the often-obscure circumstances in which the president’s brother, Federico Correa, acquired various government contracts.
Both journalists said in a press conference that they intend to appeal the decision, and that they see this as yet another limitation by the Ecuadorian government on an individual’s right to free speech as well as on the right to free press. According to Zurita, “This is yet another method of punishing the work of journalists; the amount is absurd and irrational.” For his part, Correa’s lawyer defended his client by stating that the sentence shows that both journalists fabricated the information in order to make money.
The journalists’ sentence follows approval of a law on Monday by the Ecuadorian legislature that will limit the press and other media from publishing anything favorable or unfavorable about a candidate 45 days before an election—at any level. These two events constitute a further development in the Ecuadorian government’s efforts to crack down on media, including a referendum last May that curtailed the media and a severe ruling last July against the directors and former opinion editor of El Universo newspaper.