El Universo verdict devastating to Ecuador’s democracy

New York, February 16, 2012The Committee to Protect Journalists is outraged that Ecuador’s highest court upheld today a libel conviction brought by President Rafael Correa against the Guayaquil-based daily El Universo

“An editor is seeking political asylum, three executives may soon go to jail, and the country’s leading paper may go bankrupt solely because President Correa disliked an opinion piece,” said CPJ Senior Americas Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría. “This shortsighted ruling will only keep Ecuadoran journalists from investigating powerful politicians; it represents a serious setback for democracy in Ecuador.”

In March, President Correa filed the suit against three executives and a former opinion editor with El Universo. All were sentenced in July to three years in jail, and to pay $40 million in damages. The lawsuit stems from a biting column published in El Universo in February. A CPJ special report shows that Ecuador’s outdated criminal defamation provisions have been systematically used to punish critical journalists.