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Ecuador court upholds pro-Correa libel verdict

By Gonzalo Solano

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Feb. 16 2012 10:22 a.m. MST

Correa's leftist allies in Latin America, chiefly President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, have also been accused of using heavy-handed tactics against aggressive opposition media that they have called representatives of an oligarchy opposed to their efforts to impose "21st-century socialism."

Vargas said the sentence "in no way closes the case."

The defendants said in a statement issued early Thursday that they would continue to publish as long as they are able and had already sought a "preliminary injunction" with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an autonomous panel based in Washington, D.C., that would order Ecuador to suspend execution of the sentence pending a full review.

With a 70 percent approval rating, Correa is among Latin America's most popular leaders thanks in part to an array of state-funded programs that have brought stability to a traditionally unruly nation.

His support was on display outside the courthouse Wednesday as his backers scuffled with defenders of El Universo, struck at least three journalists and burned issues of El Universo and another newspaper, El Comercio.

The press freedom director of the Inter-American Press Association, Ricardo Trotti, said Wednesday in Miami at a news conference with Nicolas and Cesar Perez that the sentence, first handed down in July, was "completely repressive and disproportionate."

The Perez brothers said they were considering seeking political asylum in the United States, which Palacio last week announced that he had requested.

The El Universo team are not the only journalists Correa has attacked in the courts.

Last week, a judge ordered two journalists to pay $1 million each to the president or offending Correa's "honor" and "professional prestige" by claiming he was aware that his older brother had some $600 million in government countracts, primarily for road construction.

Correa has also succeeded in winning through a ballot question last year a constitutional provision restricting news media ownership and creating a government oversight panel that would regulate news media content for "excesses."

And he further angered press freedom advocates by winning congressional approval of a law that bars the news media from broadcasting or publishing any material that could influence opinions about candidates or proposals during election campaigns.

Associated Press writer Frank Bajak contributed to this report from Lima, Peru.

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