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Editorials
These are the responsibility of the editor and convey the newspaper's view on current affairs-both domestic and international

Correa against the press

The ruling against Ecuador’s ‘El Universo’ is a serious attack on freedom of expression

The daily El Universo of Ecuador has just been sentenced to pay a fine whose exorbitant quantity threatens the newspaper’s continued existence, as well as even heavier penalties, and three years’ imprisonment for the columnist Emilio Palacio and the brothers Carlos, César and Nicolás Pérez, the publication’s top editors.

According to Ecuador’s National Court of Justice, an opinion article signed by Palacios, accusing the president, Rafael Correa, of having ordered the army to fire on a hospital full of civilians and innocent people, constituted a crime of libel.

This has not been the only case of confrontation between Correa and the press of Ecuador. Last week two other journalists, Juan Carlos Calderón and Christian Zurita, were sentenced to pay two million dollars for the supposed moral harm done to the president in a book that contained revelations about his brother’s business deals. This last sentence is under appeal.

Even supposing that the libel and moral damages complained of by the president really exist, the Ecuadorian courts have in these cases obviously issued rulings intended principally as an example to deter others, which, precisely for that reason, violate the principles of a democratic legal system, and amount to a serious attack on freedom of expression.

The aberrant disproportion of the sentences, dictated moreover by a judiciary which lies under suspicion of being at the service of the government, offers a glimpse of the unacceptable road now being followed by the Ecuadorian president.

Correa is interested not so much in moral or financial reparations for supposed libels, as in creating a climate of fear that will silence further criticism in the future. But the deterrent, exemplary character of the sentences against El Universo and against the journalists Calderón and Zurita, far from providing any sort of reparation, has the effect of further undermining the system of democratic law and the freedom of expression in Ecuador.

This political evil is now becoming endemic in certain countries of Latin America — where, as in Ecuador, governments have been silencing dissident voices by means of criminal prosecutions, resulting in crushing economic penalties laid upon the media companies that publish them.

Correa, as a citizen, has a right to respect for his honesty and his reputation. As a president, however, he has an obligation to respect freedom of expression, and to see that it is respected by others. The recent judicial sentences have established an absolute incompatibility between that right and that obligation, implicitly and deplorably declaring the overwhelming superiority of the former over the latter.

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