On February 16th, the National Court of Justice, Equador’s supreme court, upheld a prison sentence in connection with a libel claim brought by President Rafael Correa. In March of 2011 President Correa filed suit against César Pérez, Nicolas Pérez, Carlos Pérez, and Emilio Palacio for printing a story about him. The story described how President Correa ordered troops to fire on a hospital filled with innocent civilians in response to a police protest seeking higher wages.
Emilio Palacio wrote the article, while César Pérez, Nicolas Pérez, and Carlos Pérez are owners and executives of the paper that published the article. The newspaper is called El Universo and is a ninety-year-old publication that has extreme influence on the people of Ecuador. The 40 million dollar fine upheld in this case could put the publication out of business. In addition to the 40 million dollar fine, the sentence included a three-year prison term.
Currently, César Pérez, Nicolas Pérez, and Emilio Palacio are in Miami and will seek asylum in the United State. Carlos Pérez sought asylum in the Panamania embassy in Quito, and was granted asylum by the Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli. Nicolas Pérez was quoted stating that, “[he and his brothers] will continue to fight for the freedom of expression and equal access to justice in Ecuador by appealing to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.”
President Correa felt that the suit was necessary to expose how corrupt the press is. He also wanted to make it known that just because someone can afford to own a paper does not mean that they are afforded the right to print whatever they want. Mr. Correa said he would consider a pardon for the four men because the case has already demonstrated the point he was trying to make.
Do you think that a three-year prison sentence and 40 million dollar fine that could put a 90-year-old publication out of business is a little harsh? Should there be special considerations when it comes to freedom of the press when it relates to the President of a country?