UNITY: Journalists of Color, Inc., an alliance of the Native American Journalists Association, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Asian American Journalists Association, deplores the ruling by an Ecuadorian judge to sentence the editors, the owners and a former columnist of the daily El Universo of Guayaquil to three years in prison and fines totaling US$40 million in a libel suit filed by President Rafael Correa of Ecuador.
President Correa filed the suit on March 21, 2011, prompted by a column by then El Universo columnist Emilio Palacio on February 6. The column entitled “No to lies!” strongly criticized the president’s response to a mutiny by police officers on September 30, 2010. While the column was harsh, jailing a journalist for expressing his opinion and ordering the newspaper to pay a multimillion dollar fine goes against legal principles established by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, of which Ecuador, as a member of the Organization of American States, is obliged to abide by.
Once again, UNITY: Journalists of Color wishes to express its concerns about these actions, which will have a harmful effect on freedom of expression in Ecuador and will result in self-censorship. We urge the Ecuadorian courts to overturn this ruling, and we also reiterate our call to President Correa and Ecuadorian legislators to decriminalize media offenses.
UNITY: Journalists of Color believes that a free press is one of the vanguards of a democracy and hopes that the Ecuadorian authorities will take immediate measures to safeguard those principles.