Miami (December 27, 2021) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) expressed its approval for a recent ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. It reaffirms important precedents in favor of journalists when public officials harass them through criminal complaints and millionaire and disproportionate civil lawsuits.
The ruling of November 24, 2021 - known on December 21- declares the "international responsibility of the State of Ecuador" for the violations of various rights of journalist Emilio Palacio Urrutia, former Opinion editor of El Universo of Guayaquil, and against the owners of the newspaper, Nicolás Pérez Lapentti, César Enrique Pérez Barriga and Carlos Eduardo Pérez Barriga.
In 2011, the Ecuadorian Justice sentenced Palacio and the three executives to prison and fined them for paying $ 40 million US dollars for a criminal lawsuit initiated by Rafael Correa, then president of the country. Correa felt aggrieved by the article "No to lies," which Palacio published on February 6, 2011, in which he questioned his conduct during a police riot that occurred six months earlier.
The Inter-American Court ruled that "in the case of a speech protected by its public interest, such as those referring to conduct of public officials in the exercise of their functions, the punitive response of the State through criminal law is not conventionally appropriate to protect the honor of the official."
The Inter-American Court also established that the criminal sanction and, especially, the millionaire financial sanction, which it described as "disproportionate," generated a "chilling effect that inhibited the circulation of ideas, opinions, and information by third parties, constituting an affectation of the right to free expression." It also observed that the financial sanction, equivalent to more than double the capital of El Universo, was a violation of the right to property that, had it been carried out, would have produced "the bankruptcy" of the newspaper.
IAPA President Jorge Canahuati, CEO of Grupo Opsa, from Honduras, said: "We are pleased with this ruling that reaffirms the inter-American record in favor of the decriminalization of defamation lawsuits; against journalists and protects them from paying compensation that goes beyond its economic reality."
Carlos Jornet, president of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, editor of La Voz del Interior, from Argentina, said: "it is a great precedent to counter criminal judicial abuse and multimillion-dollar civil lawsuits. Unfortunately, public officials from many countries usually use them to intimidate and silence the media and journalists."
Canahuati and Jornet recalled that, for years, the IAPA had denounced the abusive use of criminal and civil lawsuits to silence and inhibit journalists. In this sense, the IAPA has been encouraging judges from Brazil, Guatemala, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela, among other countries, to exhaustively weigh the claims before accepting them and, thus, dismiss the criminal allegations and those that are intended to silence to critical and independent journalism."
Among other decisions, the Inter-American Court ordered the State to seek alternative ways to criminal proceedings to protect the honor of public officials. The Court also asked to create and implement a training plan for public officials on freedom of expression and set compensation amounts in favor of Palacio and the newspaper owners.
IAPA is a non-profit organization dedicated to defending and promoting freedom of the press and expression in the Americas. It comprises more than 1,300 publications from the western hemisphere; and is based in Miami, Florida, United States.