Freedom of expression is under siege in Ecuador. The National Court of Justice ruling upholding a $40-million libel sentence and three years of prison for the top executives and former opinion-page editor of the daily, El Universo, seeks to silence reasonable critics in a democratic system.
Now President Correa, who filed the suit because he considered an editorial column written by Emilio Palacio disagreeable and incorrect, claims to be considering a pardon for the defendants. The leader should really be thinking about respecting the opinions of journalists and recognizing the subjectivity of their work. But instead, he is showing a hypersensitivity to criticism worthy of an authoritarian government.
The court’s ruling sparked a strong wave of criticism from the international media, while the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights asked the Correa government to suspend the sentence. Several of the hemisphere’s former presidents, including Jimmy Carter of the United States, Brazil’s Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and Peru’s Alejandro Toledo, echoed the call.
The response to this matter is by no means excessive. If anything, it should grow. Today we join in the call not only to respect freedom of expression in Latin America, but also to protect the work of the media against regimes that aim to govern without oversight or opposition.
We believe that Correa’s suit against the newspaper is inadmissible and that it aims to bankrupt El Universo-a bastion of journalism with a 91-year track record that has been a critic of Correa since before he assumed power.
Ecuador is not the only country where the leaders of the day have waged war on the opposition media. For that reason, the El Universo case cannot be seen as unique to Ecuador, or even as a battle between Correa’s supporters and opponents, leftists and conservatives, the poor and the oligarchy, but rather as tangible evidence of the threat under which the media and freedom of expression exist in Latin America. To prevent their being silenced, people must dare to raise their voices.
Ecuador’s government should suspend the sentence, and grant a pardon even though no wrong was done. Then it would show that it is willing to play by the rules of democracy without intimidating the media.