On November 30, 2017, political columnist Enrique Rosales Ortega began serving a two-year sentence on criminal defamation charges, according to his newspaper, El Universo. Rosales entered a detention center in Santa Elena, southwestern Ecuador, accompanied by police officers, after an appeals court upheld a 2016 conviction, César Ricaurte, director of the Quito-based press freedom group Fundamedios, told CPJ.
After turning himself in, Rosales was taken to a medical center, where he remained in custody while receiving treatment for high blood pressure, Ricaurte told CPJ.
The journalist’s lawyer told Fundamedios that Rosales denies the charges. The lawyer said he believes the journalist’s conviction is politically motivated.
Rosales has written a column covering primarily business and politics for El Universo for more than a decade, Ricaurte told CPJ. His columns have been critical of local politicians and the economic policy of former president Rafael Correa and his Alianza PAIS party.
El Universo was the target of multiple defamation cases during Correa’s administration. In 2014, the newspaper was fined nearly US$95,000 in connection to a critical cartoon, and in 2015, President Correa filed a defamation complaint against three executives and the opinion editor after the paper published a column referring to Correa as “the dictator,” according to CPJ research.
The charge against Rosales stem from comments he made about Vanessa Fajardo, a former congressional representative with Alianza PAIS, when he appeared on the radio show “Noticosta” in July 2015, according to news reports and Carlos Pérez, one of the directors of El Universo. Rosales alleged that Fajardo profited from placing people in local government jobs in exchange for money, according to news reports.
Fajardo filed a complaint against Rosales, saying his statements amounted to accusing her of influence peddling and illicit enrichment, according to Fundamedios.
On October 21, 2016, a judge in Santa Elena sentenced Rosales to the maximum penalty of two years in prison for slander under Article 182 of Ecuador’s Criminal Code. The law mandates a maximum two-year prison sentence for anyone found guilty of falsely stating that another person has committed a crime.
Rosales was also ordered to pay Fajardo US$15,000 in damages and issue a public apology on the same radio station, according to the sentence.
In the final appeal hearing nearly a year later—on October 17, 2017–the court ordered Rosales to turn himself in within 72 hours, according to reports.