Feb. 16, 2012 - WPFC Letter to EU's High Representative Ashton on Outrageous Sentence in Ecuador
Ms. Catherine Ashton
High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Council of the European Union
Rue de la Loi 175
Dear Ms. Ashton:
The World Press Freedom Committee urgently calls your attention on a new attack on freedom of expression and of the press carried out by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa that could cost four members of that country’s independent news media three years in prison each and the payment of a total fine of US$40 million.
The National Court of Justice —the land’s highest— today upheld a July 2011 lower court decision in favor of President Correa, who had sued El Universo newspaper, its three publishers —brothers Carlos, César and Nicolás Pérez— and columnist Emilio Palacio for insulting the office of the president in an opinion piece.
The piece, published Feb. 6, 2011, did indeed include tough language, and even unsubstantiated allegations. Palacios wrote that President Correa ordered to open fire on "a hospital full of civilians and innocent people." He also accused Correa of "crimes against humanity." The Pérez brothers offered a public apology to Correa and asked him to set its terms. But he rejected that offer and vowed to appeal the sentence to demand the full $80 million in damages he had originally sought.
Today, President Correa has finally prevailed sending a chill down the spines not only of the four plaintiffs but also of all independent journalists in Ecuador. César and Nicolás Pérez and Palacio have fled to Miami, with the latter requesting political asylum in the US. And Carlos Pérez has taken refuge in the Panamanian Embassy in Quito, where his political asylum request has been granted. They all have said they are terrorized by the most severe criminal defamation sentence in the history of the Americas.
“Freedom belongs to everyone, not just those who can afford to buy a printing press. This has been a struggle for true freedom of expression," said a triumphant President Correa after attending the court proceedings for 14 hours in a new show of contempt for the independence of the judicial power.
If President Correa can personally litigate the country’s largest newspaper out of existence, the rest of Ecuadorian independent journalists must be wondering what could stop him from doing just the same to anyone who defies him in the news media.
In a Feb. 8 letter to you and other European and Inter-American institutions regarding another case of abuse of power against the authors of a book critical of President Correa’s brother, our Committee took a positive note of your recent statement regarding the potential repercussions on the EU-Ecuador relations of the El Universo case. “If the Court rules in favor of the appeal of the newspaper, it would reach a solution through the judicial process,” you said. “Otherwise there are obligations in the bilateral agreement EU-Ecuador, we would have to see what action to take.”
Ms. Ashton, as you know those obligations include the respect for fundamental human rights, such as freedom of expression and of the press. President Correa's chronic inability to deal with criticism, even misguided or inaccurate, reveals a stubborn rejection of some of the most basic tenets of democracy. His fondness of jousting with his critics and all-out offensives to put them out of business and out of the public arena denotes unwillingness to accept democratic rules of the game.
Therefore, the European Union needs to take these undeniable facts into consideration and demand from Ecuador that it indeed fulfills its obligations in the bilateral agreement.
World Press Freedom Committee