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ECUADOR - Supreme Court upholds three-year prison sentences and huge fines against El Universo

Thursday 16 February 2012 - 12:00am

Update #1 to RAN 42/11 16 February 2012

The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International is deeply disappointed that the Ecuadoran Supreme Court decided, during the early hours of 16 February 2012, to uphold the draconian criminal libel sentences handed down to the publishers and former editor of the daily newspaper El Universo. The publishers, Carlos Eduardo Pérez Barriga, César Enrique Pérez Barriga, Carlos Nicolás Pérez Enrique, and the former editor, Emilio Palacio, each face three years in prison; a total of US$40million in damages will have to be paid in compensation to President Rafael Correa for offences to his honour. There are no further options for appeal within Ecuador.

In 2011, President Correa brought a criminal complaint against El Universo over an article that made a number of serious accusations against him. The president demanded jail sentences and large fines for those responsible. Despite the newspaper’s offer to publish a correction, on 20 July 2011 three-year prison sentences and US$40 million in fines were handed down to Emilio Palacio, (the writer of the article), and to each of the newspaper publishers. All the convicted appealed, but the decision was upheld by the Supreme Court on 16 February 2012.

The WiPC has grave concerns about the legal process that has led to the recent decision. On the same day that the Supreme Court upheld the ruling of 20 July 2011, a lower court judge responsible for this original ruling released an affidavit saying that the decision had been written for her in advance by President Correa’s lawyer. This judge also alleges that another judge was offered $750,000 to rule in President Correa’s favour.

This latest development is a crushing blow to those who wish to write and speak freely in Ecuador. On 8 February 2012, PEN International issued a statement expressing grave concern about the state of free expression in Ecuador and calling for an end to the use of antiquated criminal libel law to silence critical voices.

The Supreme Court’s decision comes a week after two Ecuadoran journalists, Juan Carlos Calderón and Christian Zurita, were ordered to pay President Correa US$2 million in moral damages due to the content of their book El Gran Hermano (Big Brother). The book alleged that US$600 million in government contracts had been awarded to businesses linked to President Correa's older brother.

El Universo has said that it will continue to publish for as long as it can, and that it will seek international relief from The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The paper has already presented its case to the IACHR and is seeking a ‘precautionary injunction’ that would order Ecuador to suspend execution of the sentences pending a full international review of the case by the commission and, later, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Please send appeals:

Protesting the three-year prison sentences and US$40 million in fines imposed on El Universo columnist Emilio Palacio and the newspaper’s publishers Carlos Eduardo Pérez Barriga, César Enrique Pérez Barriga, Carlos Nicolás Pérez Enrique on 20 July 2011, and upheld on 16 February 2012 for allegedly libeling President Rafael Correa;
Calling on Ecuador to desist from executing the sentences pending a full international review of the case by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights;
Urging the President and government to decriminalize defamation and all other press offences in line with article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights and the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Appeals to:

Presidente Rafael Correa
Palacio de Carondelet, García Moreno No. 10-43, entre Chile y Espejo, Quito, Ecuador
Fax: +593 2 258 0714
Messages may also be sent through the Presidency’s official website:
Salutation: Dear Mr President/ Sr. Presidente

Justice and Human Rights Minister
Johana Pesántez Benítez
Ministra de Justicia y Derechos Humanos
Av. Amazonas No. 34-451 y Atahualpa, Quito, Ecuador
Fax: +593 2 292 3804/ +593 2 246 4914
Salutation: Dear Minister/Sr. Ministro

And/ or via diplomatic representatives of Ecuador in your country (see

***Please send appeals immediately. Check with International PEN if sending appeals after 30 March 2012***

For further details please contact Cathal Sheerin at the Writers in Prison Committee London Office: PEN International, Brownlow House, 50-51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER Tel: +44 (0) 207 405 0338 Fax +44 (0) 207 405 0339 email: