Ecuador: Punitive Sentences Issued in El Universo Case Violate Freedom of Expression
|Publication Date||16 February 2012|
|Cite as||Article 19, Ecuador: Punitive Sentences Issued in El Universo Case Violate Freedom of Expression, 16 February 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4f4b6bf92.html [accessed 27 March 2015]|
ARTICLE 19 is very concerned by a ruling today by Ecuador's National Court of Justice in the case filed by President Rafael Correa against the newspaper El Universo. The owners, Carlos, Cesar and Nicolas Perez, and former editor Emilio Palacio have been sentenced to three years imprisonment and ordered to pay US$40 million dollars. This is the second sentence in less than 10 days issued by an Ecuadorian court in a case filed by President Correa against journalists. ARTICLE 19 reiterates that it is profoundly concerned with the abuse of criminal defamation laws in Ecuador.
"Although defamation laws can certainly serve a legitimate purpose – protection of reputation – in practice they often represent unnecessarily and unjustifiably broad restrictions on freedom of expression, as in the present case", said Paula Martins, ARTICLE 19's Director for South America.
"We call on President Correa and other authorities to refrain from using this type of lawsuits and urge Ecuadorian legislators to abolish criminal defamation," continued Martins.
ARTICLE 19 urges Ecuadorian courts fulfil their responsibilities to enforce international human rights obligations assumed by Ecuador under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and under Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, and interpret cases involving freedom of expression and defamation according to such international standards.
ARTICLE 19 strongly believes that all criminal defamation laws violate the guarantee of freedom of expression. The organisation has recently submitted a brief to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Uzcátegui et al vs. Venezuela calling on the court to ban their enforcement.
This especially applies to public officials, who submit voluntarily to public scrutiny and, therefore, their positions and actions should be subject to an open and vigorous debate. In addition, broad debate regarding matters of public interest is fundamentally important for the functioning of a truly democratic system.
ARTICLE 19 also notes that unduly harsh sanctions such as prison sentences and fines, even for statements found to be defamatory, violate the right to freedom of expression – particularly when the fines are extraordinary high as in this case.
Today, the Court upheld a sentence issued by Judge Juan Paredes in 2011. The case was filed in 2011 following an opinion column published by El Universo written by Palacios which challenged the official version of the facts about the alleged coup against President Correa. In the article, No a las Mentiras (No to Lies), Palacio accuses the President of ordering the police to fire at civilians and stated that the President could be taken to an international criminal court in the future as crimes against humanity are not subject to statute of limitations.
The El Universo sentence follows the ruling in the case of Calderón and Zurita, earlier this month, in which the defendants were ordered to pay 1 million USD each to the President.
International authorities, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the OSCE Special Representative on Freedom of the Media have recognised the threat posed by criminal defamation laws and have recommended that they should be abolished.