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Posted on 20 Feb 12 in: Ecuador by Alejandra Diaz Camacho
Ecuador’s top court on Thursday upheld a jail sentence against the directors of El Universo newspaper, who were also ordered to pay hefty damages for libelling President Rafael Correa in a ruling described by media advocates as authoritarian censorship.
On February 16, the Supreme Court upheld the sentence issued against the newspaper director, in the first high-profile sentence issued by the newly appointed court selected amid complaints from opposition lawmakers that some chosen judges had ties with Correa’s party.
The ruling by the National Court of Justice, Ecuador’s Supreme Court, ratifies a lower-court decision that sentenced owners of El Universo, Ecuador’s most influential paper, and a former columnist Emilio Palacio, to three years in prison for defaming President Rafael Correa. Additionally, $40 million were awarded to Correa in damages.
The newspaper’s management said the fine would likely bankrupt El Universo, the country’s widest circulation newspaper, given that its total capital is just $35 million.
International press strongly rejected the court’s ruling against the newspaper and deem it as a step backwards for democracy and press freedom, which has deteriorated significantly over the last year in Ecuador. They argue that the use of defamation laws and intimidation of journalists pose some of the most serious threats to freedom of expression.
El Universo director is granted asylum in Panama
Panama granted asylum to El Universo’s director, Carlos Pérez, shortly after he was charged for defaming Correa.
Pérez, one of three executives facing prison and a hefty fine after losing a libel suit sought refuge in the embassy of Panama in Quito as he argued that there were serious concerns about his safety.
Panama’s embassy in Ecuador said the request was granted because there was ‘a reasonable fear’ for the personal security of Perez. The president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, made the announcement through his Twitter account. Rafael Correa and Minister of Foreign Affaird, Ricardo Patiño expressed they were ‘surprised’ by Martinelli’s decision.
Five-day period of carnival start in Ecuador
Ecuadorians get ready to celebrate the carnival period which marks the beginning of ‘Lent’ in Christian tradition. This Ecuador holiday is one of the most attractive of the region with colourful parades, festivities and bullfights.
Many popular festivals are held throughout the country, being Ambato and Guaranda Carnivals some of the most vibrant festivities of the season. The city of Ambato hosts the Festival of Fruits and Flowers whilst the city of Guaranda showcases a dazzling combination of parades, dancers, strolling poets and masked people during the celebration period.
One of the highlights of the holiday consists of getting soaked or sprayed with foam. Some municipalities have outlawed soaking people with buckets, hoses, or water balloons in order to protect tourists visiting the city, who are not used to the celebration.