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Exiled journalist remains target of Ecuadorian president's criticism, threats of violence

Ecuadorean newspaper columnist Emilio Palacio
Ecuadorean newspaper columnist Emilio Palacio

REUTERS/Joe Skipper

President Rafael Correa's lack of patience for journalists who dare to criticize his administration is no secret. He has repeatedly discredited journalists and media outlets, using his regular TV broadcasts to reach an audience of his supporters. He has also taken some members of the media to court. Last week, Correa's criticism sunk to a new low when he appeared to incite violence against one journalist who has been the frequent target of his attacks. During the segment of his programme called “Free expression belongs to us all”, Correa seemed to have forgotten that there are limits to free expression when it is an incitement to violence.

On 23 August during his regular Saturday programme “Enlace Ciudadano”, President Correa discredited journalist Emilio Palacio and his work, calling the reporter a “psychopath” and asking his listeners whether they felt “like kicking a guy like that”, reports local NGO Fundamedios. Correa was speaking, during a segment of his programme dedicated to free expression, about a report written by Palacio in April about a trip that Correa took to New York – a trip Correa denies ever took place. The president went on to ask the press to have “a bit of decency” and to look elsewhere for a model of a decent journalist, saying that Palacio was sick and dangerous and “had so much hate inside” that he would “make up anything”.

Palacio left Ecuador in 2011 because of political persecution, part of which was a lawsuit that President Correa brought against him and El Universo newspaper executives Carlos, César and Nicolás Pérez. In July of that year, Palacio and the executives were sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of $40 million for publishing an article about Correa ordering shots fired on a hospital during the police revolt in September 2010. In February 2012 Correa pardoned all four men, but maintained that they had deserved the original sentences they had received.

Hours after Correa's programme aired, one of his supporters on Twitter, user @Grangaz007, identified as Fausto Zapata, offered $100,000 for Palacio's head, while another user, Bruno Diaz doubled the offer to $200,000. The chairman of the Inter American Press Association's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Claudio Paolillo, said it was “extremely dangerous and outrageous” that a president would encourage acts of violence against a journalist. The Ecuadorian Minister of the Interior, Jose Serrano, said an investigation was underway.

In addition to the Twitter threats, on 25 August the state-run newspaper El Telégrafo published an editorial accusing Palacio of lying “all the time”, committing slander and making things up, reports Fundamedios.

Luckily there is some space between Correa and the journalist; Palacio is currently in exile in the United States. He wrote in his column that “as a journalist one has to be prepared to be persecuted and threatened”, but even this seasoned reporter noted that the president's apparent lack of concern about putting him in danger and having people on twitter placing a price on his head had made for an exceptional week.

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