Public criticism by Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa of journalist Emilio Palacio is deemed extremely dangerous and reflects an intolerant and obsessive attitude that could incite acts of violence, the Inter American Press Association said Tuesday.
During his customary address Saturday, Correa said of Palacio “This psychopath, how is he not going to provoke anger my friends? As a democrat, no matter how tolerant one is, what would you do in my case if you saw such a miserable human being? Wouldn’t you trample on him? …. Don’t you feel like kicking a guy like that?” Correa also discredited former member of Congress Cléver Jiménez.
The chairman of the association’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Claudio Paolillo, declared, “It is extremely dangerous and outrageous that the president of a nation promotes potential acts of violence with his outpourings against a journalist or any other citizen.”
Paolillo, editor of the Montevideo, Uruguay, weekly Búsqueda, added, “The courts are there to resolve these disagreements, and the president has previously recurred to them. Correa’s attitude towards this journalist is totally mistaken, intolerant, obsessive and personal.”
Correa was reacting to a report published by Palacio in April about a secret trip that the president had taken to New York, information that he denied. For his part Palacio said on his blog www.ubicatv.com that “the president’s tirade is incomprehensible … unless he has something to hide.”
Palacio, who left the country in August 2011, because he considered he was being politically persecuted, said that this was not the first time that Correa had “revealed his intention to resort to physical threats to silence me,” and mentioned two other similar occurrences.
However, on this occasion the President’s expressions had an echo. The following day a person on Twitter identified as Fausto Zapata offered $100,000 for the journalist’s head; and shortly afterwards another user identified as Bruno Díaz doubled the reward to $200,000, which led the interior minister to announce on Twitter that “we will immediately investigate.”
The government newspaper El Telégrafo also joined the campaign to discredit Palacio, headlining its Monday editorial “Emilio Palacio’s infamy is embraced by the local press,” in which it declared that Palacio “lies all the time, slanders, invents, defames….”
Palacio wrote in his column that “as a journalist one has to be prepared to be persecuted and threatened. That has happened to me several times. But last week was exceptional for me – in less than seven days an Ecuadorean public prosecutor began to investigate me, the president of the Republic confessed his desire to physically hurt me, and on Twitter they put a price on my head.”
In 2011 Correa sued Palacio, former op-ed editor of the Guayaquil newspaper El Universo, and the paper’s executives Carlos, César and Nicolás Pérez, for libel over a column in which Palacio warned the president that he could be put on trial for crimes against humanity for having ordered opening fire on a hospital during a police revolt in September 2010.
Palacio and the three executives of the newspaper were sentenced in July 2011 to three years in prison, and the payment of a $40 million fine as indemnity. In February 2012 President Correa decided “to pardon the accused, granting them remission of the sentences that they deservedly received,” he announced.
Paolillo also condemned threats made against journalist David Romero Ellner, who reported that since last week he had been the object of persecution, and that he feared for his life and that of his family. He works for Radio Globo and Globo TV in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
The association also referred to the Aug.14 murder of journalist Nery Francisco Soto Torres. Soto Torres, 32, hosted a news program on Canal 23 television and was co-producer of the program “Cuarto Poder” broadcast by Radio Full FM. He was killed as he was arriving at his home in Olachito, Yoro province. Two persons were arrested for alleged links to the murder.
Paolillo stressed that “the investigation and punishment of those responsible for murders and other attacks on the press is the best way to ensure the protection of journalists.”
The Inter American Press Association is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 print publications from throughout the Western Hemisphere, including the parent firm of A.M. Costa Rica, and is based in Miami, Florida.