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Correa's hypocrisy on display amid assault on media

Shortly after a provincial court in Guayas, Ecuador, upheld a bankrupting US$40 million fine and three-year jail sentences for three "El Universo" newspaper directors and one writer, President Rafael Correa insulted his critics during a public speech at Columbia University in New York, report the Andean Foundation for Media Observation & Study (FUNDAMEDIOS), the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

When CPJ's Americas expert Carlos Lauria attested during the Q&A that Ecuadorian courts imprison journalists on Correa's orders, Correa responded with, "Sir, you are lying and you are a liar."

Ahead of the Columbia event, IAPA president Gonzalo Marroquín sent a letter to Columbia University's president and academics, describing the context of the Ecuadorian free expression environment in order to encourage debate during the speech. Referring to the "El Universo" case and "other multi-million-dollar lawsuits filed against journalists and writers," Marroquín wrote that Correa accuses journalists of being "corrupt, undemocratic and in favor of a coup d'état."

The cases against "El Universo" directors Carlos, César and Nicolás Pérez and former writer Emilio Palacio stems from a column Palacio wrote that criticised Correa's response to a police strike, in which he called on the army to open fire at a hospital that was the site of a stand-off between police and Correa, even though patients were inside.

The legal process in the first and second trials have been marred with irregularities, with frequent rescheduling to fit Correa's needs, the barring of independent press and a total of 13 judges participating in the two trials, reports FUNDAMEDIOS. Since the ruling, César Pérez said they will continue the legal fight. (In August, Palacio fled to Miami, saying he wouldn't receive a fair trial in Ecuador. He continues to write in exile, according to the "Miami Herald".)

While stricken from the books in most countries, criminal defamation is frequently used in Ecuador to silence detractors, especially those critical of the President. Other tools used against the press include verbal harassment, license suspensions and fines for supposed technical infractions. FUNDAMEDIOS reports that in August, the license of opposition party member-owned TV station Telesangay was suspended. In early September, seven radio stations were slapped with a fine for failing to notify the Telecommunications Superintendent that they would be simultaneously broadcasting the same program - ironically, a program on freedom of expression, reports FUNDAMEDIOS.

"You cannot continue to hope to create a new pluralist order…while at the same time continuing to respond in such an extreme and intransigent manner to the least criticism against you in the media. A revolution or a war with the media - the choice is yours," wrote RSF secretary-general Jean-François Julliard in his letter to Correa.

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