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The National Press Club president expressed outrage recently about the president of Ecuador’s systematic and relentless attacks on the press. Angry over a piece that was critical of him, the Ecuadorian president, Rafael Correa, has won court rulings– under questionable circumstances– that could result in the shuttering of one of Latin America’s most esteemed newspapers and the imprisonment of its journalists.
The case of the paper, El Universo, is just one of several examples of Correa attacking press freedom. Under Correa, defamation suits against reporters have multiplied, and state ownership of media organizations has grown, according to independent monitoring groups. National Press Club President Mark Hamrick, a broadcast journalist with the Associated Press, expressed hope that justice would be served in Ecuador and press freedom protected.
“President Correa has been condemned by human-rights and press-freedom groups for his mistreatment of reporters,” Hamrick said. “It is past time for this type of harassment and intimidation to stop in Ecuador and anywhere else where reporters face jail–or worse–for merely doing their jobs.” The Washington Post, in a Jan. 12 editorial, called Correa’s campaign against reporters “the most comprehensive and ruthless assault on free media underway in the Western Hemisphere.”
In July, three directors of El Universo were sentenced to three years in jail, and the paper fined $40 million(enough to shut it down) as a result of a defamation suit brought by Correa. But computer forensics later showed that the president’s attorney had, in fact, written the court’s decision, an independent inquiry found.
Three subsequent rulings have upheld the original one, a fact that raises question about the autonomy ofEcuador’s judiciary, according to non-governmental groups. Another court decision in the case is due any day now.
“The El Universo story is, unfortunately, not unique,” Hamrick said. “The evidence seems clear that the press is under siege in Ecuador. Correa needs to know that concerned people are watching.”