Rights foundation asks court to overturn libel verdict

The Human Rights Foundation sent a letter Monday to the magistrates of the national court of justice of Ecuador, exhorting them to overturn the verdict that sentenced journalist Emilio Palacio and three executives of El Universo newspaper to three years in prison and ordered them to pay $40 million in damages to Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador. The letter to the magistrates was accompanied by a legal report that analyzes Palacio’s case under international human rights law.

“In authoritarian regimes, those who offend or criticize the dictator usually go to jail or into exile. In Ecuador they go a step further. Those who offend or criticize President Correa are jailed or exiled and also bankrupted,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of thefoundation. “Ecuador’s high court must show its independence from the executive branch and revoke this abhorrent sentence,” concluded Halvorssen.

Feb. 6 Palacio published the article “No to lies,” an opinion piece critical of President Correa and his government, in his Sunday column in El Universo. In response to the article, on March 21 President Correa filed a criminal suit against Palacio, against three executives of El Universo, and against the company that owns the newspaper, for the crime of slanderous libel. President Correa’s criminal suit also requested $80 million in damages. On July 20 a district court convicted the defendants, sentenced them to three years in prison, and ordered them to pay $40 million in damages to President Correa. On Sept. 20, the Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s sentence. In the next few days, the high court will issue a final decision that will uphold or overturn the verdict against Palacio and El Universo.

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