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Fundamedios condemns brutal blow against fundamental freedoms

(Fundamedios/IFEX) - During the early hours of Thursday 16 February 2012, a tribunal, that was constituted quickly through a private draw (when the Law establishes it should be public) days after a new National Court of Justice was established, ruled in less than two hours in the most important case ever to be heard in Ecuador involving the effectiveness of fundamental rights and liberties.

As was expected, bearing in mind the serious procedural irregularities denounced by the defense at the time they occurred, the ruling, which sanctions the actions of previous judicial instances, opposes freedom of expression as established not just in the republic's constitution, but in several international human rights agreements ratified by the country. The tribunal's rejection of the appeal for the review of facts presented by "El Universo" confirms the sanction against the newspaper, its main executives and feature writer Emilio Palacio, who were convicted to three years in prison and the payment of US$40 million, in favor of the President of the Republic, Rafael Correa.

This constitutes the most flagrant violation of the right, which all Ecuadorians believed we had, to express our ideas freely. Whether a person agrees or not with the terms used by Emilio Palacio in his opinion article, one thing remains clear: they were expressions about an issue that was being publicly debated (the tragic events of 30 September 2010), which judged the public actions of a ruler in matters of great public interest. To claim in those circumstances that the “offended” official's right to honor must prevail completely, is to leave a whole society without the right to debate democratically the serious events at issue. In other words, if Ecuadorians cannot debate the events of 30 September, we cannot say that we live in a full democracy.

Fundamedios believes that the sentence against "El Universo" will have calamitous consequences, not just for the exercise of the freedom of expression, but also for the effectiveness of democracy in Ecuador. The historical precedent demanded by the president through his accusation and the sentences obtained will come paradoxically true, because although it is undoubtedly a historical milestone, it is completely negative one. Contrary to what the President of the Republic has stated, this date will be remembered as the day in which judicial corruption, the abuse of power, the condemnation of citizens' thoughts and opinions and of the work of the press itself, all prevailed; as the day in which a ruler made a fortune at the expense of citizens' rights and by means of judicial rulings.

What has also become evident is the high level of social turmoil now existing, which was manifested yesterday in the aggressions by government partisans against other citizens, journalists, filmmakers, union leaders and company executives. They reached the extreme of burning newspaper copies, creating images that reminded us of ominous times in human history. This image was completed by the violent acts which took place during a different judicial hearing in Guayaquil, where a group of government partisans and political officials were attacked. We strongly condemn all these events while stating it is evident that as Ecuadorians we have all lost something with the indictment of "El Universo".

Fundamedios expresses its complete solidarity with the newspaper's journalists, workers and executives, and highlights the dignity they have shown during this whole episode.

Fundamedios strongly denounces what has happened, raising its voice in protest and ratifying its commitment, without renunciation or recoil, to the fight for the recovery, for Ecuador and the region, of the fundamental principles of a full democracy, which have received a brutal blow on this day.

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