CPJ alarmed by defamation sentence in Ecuador

New York, July 21, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists strongly condemns a sentence issued Wednesday in a libel case brought by Ecuador’s president which sets an alarming precedent for suppressing free expression. The sentence, which is being appealed, calls for three years imprisonment each for three executives and an editor, in addition to $40 million in fines.

“This sentence makes evident President Correa’s tightening grip on the media in Ecuador,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior Americas program coordinator. “The decision is a serious setback for the decriminalization of defamation in the Americas, and sends the chilling message that public scrutiny and free expression come at a high price.”

Correa filed the suit against El Universo’s executives Carlos Pérez Barriga, César Pérez Barriga, and Nicolás Pérez Barriga (who are brothers) along with opinion editor Emilio Palacio, in March.  The lawsuit stems from a biting column published in El Universo in February.  CPJ research shows that Ecuador’s outdated criminal defamation provisions have been systematically used to punish critical journalists.