QUITO – An editorialist and three directors of Quito daily El Universal sentenced to prison for defaming Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa will receive pardons, the head of state said Monday.
He made the announcement at the presidential palace before an audience that included his Cabinet, legislative leaders and members of the diplomatic corps.
“The abusive press has been defeated. That press, which in the face of the resounding defeat of the right ... has become a belligerent political actor against the progressive governments and which attacks in an illegitimate, dishonest, arrogant way the democratic victories of our peoples,” Correa said.
“There is forgiving, but no forgetting,” the leftist president said.
The case began in February 2011, when El Universal’s then-chief editorial writer, Emilio Palacio, published a piece suggesting that Correa might ultimately face charges for having ordered troops to open fire on a hospital during a Sept. 30, 2010, police uprising.
Palacio and three of the paper’s directors, brothers Cesar, Carlos and Nicolas Perez, were found guilty of defaming the president and sentenced to three years in prison.
The courts also fined each of the men $10 million and ordered El Universal to pay another $10 million in damages.
Prosecutors proved that El Universal lied and the case demonstrated the extent of the power of certain media outlets, Correa said Monday.
He called on Ecuadorians to “struggle for genuine social communication, in which private businesses are the exception and not the rule, where freedom of expression is a right of everyone and not the privilege of oligarchies who inherit a printing press to put it under the name of front companies in the Cayman Islands.”
The pardons follow a request from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission for Quito to suspend the sentences, rebuffed by Ecuador on the grounds that the men had yet to exhaust their appeals and remained free pending a final judgment.
The convictions prompted condemnation and expressions of concern from foreign governments and press freedom advocates.
Besides granting pardons to Palacio and the Perez brothers, Correa said he will drop his libel suit against journalists Juan Carlos Calderon and Christian Zurita for their book “El Gran Hermano” (The Big Brother), which alleges that the president knew of government contracts obtained by older sibling Fabricio Correa. EFE