Since July, we have been following Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa's libel lawsuit against Ecuadorian newspaper El Universo and four of its journalists. In July 2011, El Universo's reporters were sentenced to jail and the newspaper fined $40 million after Correa sued for libel over this February column "No to Lies," which questioned "an army raid to rescue [the President] from striking policemen" and called Correa a dictator.
El Universo protested the ruling by running a blank front page on its July 21, 2011 edition. After the initial ruling, El Universo appealed and claimed the verdict was "written by Correa's own lawyer." Correa said he would drop the lawsuit if El Universo apologized, but the newspaper's journalists said they wouldn't apologize unless the government dropped "all lawsuits against journalists ... and comply with the law regarding public access to information," the BBC reported.
In mid-February, Ecuador's National Court of Justice upheld the libel conviction.
But, Correa announced Feb. 27 that he will pardon El Universo and the four reporters, according to the Associated Press. The pardon means they won't be jailed or have to pay the libel money.
According to the Miami Herald, Correa said he "never wanted to put anyone in jail or receive 20 cents. We just wanted to prove that they were lying....The corrupt press has been defeated."
Prior to the pardon announcement, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called for an injunction on the sentence, Dow Jones reported. In a Feb. 16 press release, the commission "expressed its deep concern" at the ruling against the journalists.
The group planned to review the case in a March 28 hearing, according to Dow Jones. We asked the commission if the pardoning changed the planned hearing. According to the commission's press director, Maria Isabel Rivero, "the hearing for March 28 has been called and has not been cancelled so far."
Rivero added that the "commission issued precautionary measures" Feb. 21 "in favor of" the journalists. According to the statement, "the facts reported to the commission could cause irreparable damage to the right of freedom of expression" so the commission called for Ecuador to "immediately suspend the effects of the judgment of February 15, 2012." Rivero said that "there has not been any other decision of public character regarding these measures."
Regardless of the pardon, the Committee to Protect Journalists called the libel case "part of an alarming pattern" against freedom of expression.
Correa also announced that "he was dropping a libel case" against Juan Carlos Calderon and Christian Zurita. As we have written, Correa successfully sued the two over their book The Big Brother, which "revealed the contracts" worth millions that Correa's brother received from the government. Correa denied prior knowledge of the contracts and then canceled them.
We have written to El Universo seeking comment about the pardon and will update with any response.
According to the Associated Press, Ecuadorian judge Monica Encalada claims one of Correa's lawyers tried "to bribe her to ensure a guilty verdict against El Universo."
The Miami Herald explained that Encalada made her claims in a Feb. 23 press release. She claimed Correa "promised her $3,000 a month and steady work if he would rule against the newspaper." Encalada didn't end up hearing the case, but the judge who did, Judge Juan Paredes, said he "relied on Encalada's work" to make his ruling against the newspaper, the Miami Herald reported. Encalada disputed that and claimed that "Paredes later told her that the sentence was written by Correa's legal team."
According to the Miami Herald, Encalada is "seeking the protection of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission." The AP added that Encalada "has sought political exile in Colombia." We asked the commission about Encalada's petition. The commission's press director, Rivero, said that "the petition is still under preliminary study and the IACHR has not yet decided if it complies with the requisites to be processed." Rivero explained that "a petition is different from a request for precautionary measures."