Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa holds up a copy of El Universo in Quito on November 22, 2011. The newspaper's case against Ecuadorian authorities was recently accepted by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. (AP/Dolores Ochoa)
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa holds up a copy of El Universo in Quito on November 22, 2011. The newspaper’s case against Ecuadorian authorities was recently accepted by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. (AP/Dolores Ochoa)

Inter-American Court to hear El Universo’s case against defamation suit filed by former Ecuadorian president

Miami, February 24, 2020 — The Committee to Protect Journalists today welcomed the decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to hear the case of Ecuadorian newspaper El Universo against a criminal defamation suit filed by former President Rafael Correa.

In March 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a regional body of which Ecuador is a member, found that the 2011 criminal defamation verdict against the newspaper in an Ecuadorian court constituted a violation of freedom of expression, and referred it to the body’s court system, which informed the newspaper on February 21 that it would hear the case, according to news reports.

“The Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ decision to hear the El Universo case is an important step toward long-overdue justice in this affair, which was one of the most extreme examples of the abuses committed against the press under the Correa administration,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick in New York. “This case can also serve to highlight how Ecuador’s outdated criminal defamation provisions were systematically used to punish critical journalists.”

The criminal defamation suit, filed in March 2011 while Correa was in office, stemmed from a critical column published in the newspaper that February, as CPJ documented at the time. Three executives and a former opinion editor at El Universo were sentenced in July 2011 to three years in jail and to pay $40 million in damages, as CPJ documented. After Ecuador’s highest court upheld the conviction in February 2012, the defendants filed a complaint with the Inter-American Human Rights System, according to news reports.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The text has been modified in the second paragraph to correct the action taken by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on February 21.