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Columnist resigns in attempt to stop president's lawsuit against paper

(Fundamedios/IFEX) - On 7 July 2011, columnist and opinion editor of the newspaper "El Universo", Emilio Palacio, presented his resignation from the paper to prevent "the company's bankruptcy" and because "the source of employment and livelihood of a thousand collaborators is in danger".

Palacio announced his decision on 11 July in a public letter in which he again assumed all responsibility for the article that led to the lawsuit for aggravated slander filed by President Rafael Correa. The president has requested three-year prison sentences for Palacio and each of the newspaper's directors, as well as a payment for damages amounting to US$80 million.

In the letter, Palacio stated that the decision to publish the article that motivated the lawsuit, "No a las Mentiras", was entirely his and that he hoped his resignation will lead the chief of state to withdraw the accusation against "El Universo" and its directors, Carlos César and Nicolás Pérez.

"The president is asking for a rectification from the newspaper and its directors. It is my understanding that he wants my complete withdrawal from the paper; not just from the position entrusted to me as Opinion Editor, but also from my role as a columnist and, in a broader sense, from any other direct or indirect intervention with this journalistic company or any other media outlet or company linked to it," says Palacio's letter.

Palacio also pointed out that "the source of employment and livelihood of around a thousand collaborators of the institution and their families is in grave danger and, under those circumstances, we must all accept this reality."

Alembert Vera, one of President Correa's lawyers, assured Fundamedios that the legal process will carry on despite Palacio's resignation because "nothing has been rectified". He considers the resignation letter nothing but a strategy by "El Universo" to initiate a media campaign aimed at misleading the public and shifting public opinion.

Fundamedios laments this new case of self-censorship that silences one of the most critical voices of Ecuadorian journalism. It also recalls the cases of Carlos Vera and Jorge Ortiz, two other very critical voices that were silenced. For years, the president's verbal attacks were mostly focused on these three journalists. Fundamedios condemns this developments and reminds the state of its obligation to protect journalists and the fundamental right to express an opinion.

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