Miami (September 20, 2011)—The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today voiced concern at the federal government’s intent in Ecuador to “continue violating freedom of the press” by pressuring for independent and opposition journalists to be given “consummate punishment and made to resort to self-censorship.” The organization protested after learning of the ratification of conviction of Guayaquil newspaper El Universo and its executives.
The Guayas Second Criminal Court this morning 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. The sentence upheld ordered them to pay $40 million indemnity and three years in prison on a libel charge filed by Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa. Two of the three judges, Henry Morán and Hellen Mantilla, came out in favor of upholding the conviction, while the third, Guillermo Freire, abstained.
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.
IAPA President Gonzalo Marroquín declared, “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.”
Marroquín, president of the Guatemala City, Guatemala, newspaper Siglo 21, was referring to a “rushed and sudden” legal action in which provisional judge Juan Paredes of the Guayas 15th Criminal Rights Court handed down a more than 150-page conviction based on a 5,000-page case file, in a record 12 hours, and then resigned.
Robert Rivard, chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information and editor of the San Antonio Express-News, Texas, 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.
The IAPA 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.
Marroquín and Rivard emphasized that public figures are more exposed to criticism and those who exercise that right to criticize should have assurance of constitutional and legal armor in order to be able to do so. “The imposition of prison sentences and payments of multi-million-dollar fines clearly shows that what we have here is a disproportionate and derisive ruling that seeks to censor or at least impose self-censorship on all independent journalists and news media.”
The IAPA 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 and is based in Miami, Florida. For more information please go to http://www.sipiapa.org.