An appeals court in Ecuador Tuesday upheld the $40 million award against four executives on the Guayaquil newspaper El Universo. The charge was filed by President Rafael Correa.
The Guayas Second Criminal Court overturned an appeal and upheld the sentencing of the newspaper’s executives Carlos, César and Nicolás Pérez and of Emilo Palacio, its former op-ed page editor, according to the Inter American Press Association. Two of the three judges, Henry Morán and Hellen Mantilla, came out in favor of upholding the conviction, while the third, Guillermo Freire, abstained, the association said.
Palacio is currently in the United States seeking political asylum, claiming political persecution. The same claim is made by other Ecuadorean journalists who have been sued by President Correa. The court also upheld a three-year jail term for Palacio.
Judge Juan Paredes of the Guayas 15th Criminal Rights Court handed down a more than 150-page initial conviction based on a 5,000-page case file, in a record 12 hours, and then resigned, the Inter American Press Association noted.
“We are not surprised by this predictable decision, made in a country where a part of the judiciary appears to be subordinated to those in power, especially the head of state, who has shown signs of judicial manipulation, as evidenced on July 20 this year,” said Gonzalo Marroquín. He is president of the Inter American Press Association. He was referring to the date that Paredes issued his decision.
Robert Rivard expressed concern and anger at President Correa’s previous statements, made during his weekly Saturday broadcasts that always sought consummate punishment on independent and critical news media that he regarded as corrupt and not in line with the people’s revolution. “Anything not agreeing with his views or that shows criticism of the president ends up being hit with extravagant legal action,” Rivard added. He is chairman of the association’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information and editor of the San Antonio Express-News, Texas.
Both association officers said they trusted that in the end Ecuador’s Supreme Court would be responsible for safeguarding the interests and principles of free speech and press freedom, which they said should be paramount in a democracy and which the government has pledged to guarantee.
The case stems from Palacio’s column titled :No more lies,” that was critical of Correa’s actions July 20, 2010, when police officers staged what amounted to an abortive coup while the president was visiting a hospital. Correa initially sought $80 million but never explained in his filings what damage the column inflicted on him. He was also unhappy that Palacio referred to him as a dictator in the opinion column, according to sources in Ecuador.