Ecuador journalist seeks asylum from libel suit

[JURIST] Carlos Perez, one of four El Universo [official website, in Spanish] managers convicted of libel [JURIST report] against Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa [official website, in Spanish; BBC profile], was granted asylum by Panama on Thursday. El Universo is the second largest newspaper in Ecuador. Two of the four men, Cesar and Nicolas Perez, have already fled to Miami. The announcement that Carlos Perez had been granted asylum came shortly after [AFP report] Ecuador's highest court, the National Court of Justice, upheld the conviction against the four El Universo managers [press release, in Spanish]. The men were sentenced to three years in prison each and fined USD $40 million in total. Correa indicated that he was surprised that Panama granted the men asylum because, in his view, they were common criminals and not persecuted political activists. He also stated on Thursday that he was considering pardoning [LA Times report] the men. The El Universo officials stated that they will bring an appeal to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights [official website] to fight the verdict.

Correa remains resolute that the media in Ecuador is corrupt and must be harnessed. In a statement [El Ciudadano, in Spanish], he called the suit one of his greatest legacies because now the Ecuadoran "corrupt press" know they cannot "damage the honor of a person." He also pointed to El Universo's willingness to apologize as a sign of their culpability: "[T]hey knew they had committed a crime, but pride prevented them, as required by the Constitution, to correct [their error]." El Universo, in fact, offered several times to retract the editorial, allow Correa to write his own correction and settle out-of-court, but Correa's lawyer refused their settlement offers. El Universo remains defiant. The newspaper's front page on the day of the verdict displayed a headline of "Condemned" followed by an Ayn Rand quotation: "When you see that men get richer by graft and pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you—when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice—you may know that your society is doomed." El Universo's report [text, in Spanish] states they believe Ecuador's libel laws are in violation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, for using criminal law to punish expressions against public officials. Correa has another suit pending against journalists Juan Carlos Calderon and Christian Zurita for their book Big Brother [Amazon profile], which claimed that Correa's brother had awarded millions of dollars of government contracts to businesses for his own profit. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] criticized Correa rallying against journalists earlier this year and pleaded with him to not prosecute journalists [report text].

 

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