QUITO - Human rights groups and free speech advocates condemned Wednesday what many are calling the “death of free speech” in Ecuador, as editorial page editor Emilio Palacios was sentenced to three years in jail for writing an editorial that called Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa a “dictator.” Along with Palacio, three brothers who are directors of the newspaper, Carlos, César, and Nicolás Pérez, were also sentenced to three years each.
The irony was not lost on advocates of free speech, who condemned the sentence as well as Correa’s ongoing $80 million civil suit against the newspaper that is being adjudicated alongside the criminal trial.
Correa, a far-left politician that has followed the “21st Century Socialism” model of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, recently pushed through a referendum that would give him autocratic power over much of the economy and civic law.
Many feared that this would be another step toward the type of incremental autocracy that has occurred in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and other members of the Chavez-led “ALBA alliance,” and the draconian sentence today did little to quell those fears.
After Correa originally filed the suit, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists stated "Ecuador"s outdated criminal defamation provisions have been systematically used to punish critical journalists," and yesterday, the Inter American Press Association released a statement condemning "the ongoing harassment of Ecuador"s independent press through excessive and disproportionate legal suits by President Rafael Correa."
Just days before, the newspaper’s directors offered to issue a correction if Correa would drop the prosecution. He refused.