Ecuador journalist seeks asylum from libel suit

Carlos Pérez, one of four El Universo managers convicted of libel against Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa, was granted asylum by Panama on Feb. 17. El Universo is the second largest newspaper in Ecuador. Two of the four men, Cesar and Nicolas Pérez, have already fled to Miami. The announcement that Carlos Pérez had been granted asylum came after Ecuador’s National Court of Justice upheld the conviction against the four El Universo managers. The men were sentenced to three years in prison each and fined $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 that he was considering pardoning the men. El Universo officials stated they will bring an appeal to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to fight the verdict.

Correa remains resolute that the media in Ecuador is corrupt and must be harnessed. In a statement, he called the suit one of his greatest legacies because now Ecuador’s “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 states they believe Ecuador’s libel laws are in violation of Inter-American Commission on Human Rights standards, 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 El Gran Hermano (Big Brother), which claimed that Correa’s brother had awarded millions of dollars of government contracts to businesses for his own profit. Human Rights Watch criticized Correa earlier this year, petitioning him to not prosecute journalists.

From Jurist, Feb. 17. Used with permission.