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"El Universo" threatened with two more lawsuits

(Fundamedios/IFEX) - The "El Universo" newspaper could face two more lawsuits as "contributing author". On 24 September 2011, President Rafael Correa announced during his "239 Enlace Ciudadano" program, broadcast from the US, that the newspaper may face a new lawsuit for having published a letter written by Cynthia Viteri, a member of parliament for the movement Madera de Guerrero, in response to some statements uttered by Correa against her mother, Judge María Leonor Jiménez, during a previous program.

According to the chief of state, the newspaper's owners should not have permitted the publication of the letter in the paper's 12 September issue because, it allegedly "contained insults". Correa suggested that they could be brought to trial again "for allowing insults and statements damaging to one's honour." "Messrs Pérez, stop being so childish, learn from what happened to you. You can be sued again as contributing figures for that kind of publication. You should be ethical and professional," the president said.

Concerning another possible lawsuit, on 23 September, César Pérez, assistant director of "El Universo", confirmed that the paper is facing a demand from the district attorney requesting that it disclose the name of the author of a piece which included statements by Ernesto Rey Cantor, former ad hoc judge of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. The article referred to a lawsuit for slander filed by the president of the National Financial Corporation, Camilo Samán, in 2009, against the newspaper's former opinion editor, Emilio Palacio.

On 15 August, "El Universo" published an interview with Cantor entitled: "Correa is behind the policy against the media". In it, Cantor explained, among other things, that the three-year prison sentence and US$10 thousand fine against Palacio "was a judicial monstrosity."

Pérez stated during an interview for a Guayaquil radio station, that even though the district attorney's request "is not a lawsuit," not only is there a request for the name of person who wrote the piece, but also the assertion that "the editor, director, senior management, general manager would have contributed to committing a crime of hatred and slander".

Meanwhile, lawyer Joffre Campaña, counsel for "El Universo" and its directors, called the district attorney's request a new attack on freedom of expression.

Campaña explained that a previous exhibition is a motion requested by the prosecutor when dealing with violations related to publishing. It is worth noting that a court has ratified in the second instance the sentence issued by a temporary judge, who called for a three-year prison sentence for Palacio, and "El Universo"'s directors, Carlos, César and Nicolás Pérez, as well as the payment of US$40 million in the defamation lawsuit filed by President Correa.

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