Ecuador: Correa wins million-dollar libel judgments against two reporters

GlobalPost

A judge in Ecuador today ordered two reporters to pay $1 million each to President Rafael Correa after convicting them of defamation for saying he knew of his older brother’s $600 million in government contracts, according to The Associated Press.

The two journalists, Juan Carlos Calderon and Christian Zurita, vowed to appeal and called the penalties out of proportion, according to Reuters.

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Correa has often accused the news media of working to undermine him at the behest of right-wing interests. But he has himself been accused of using a politicized judiciary to silence his critics.

Judge Mercedes Portilla imposed the fines for claims made in the 2010 book “The Big Brother.” Calderon called the decision “a way of punishing the work of journalism,” according to the AP.

Correa in July won a $42 million judgment against three executives and a columnist at the daily newspaper El Universo in which all four also received prison sentences. The judgment is on appeal.

In her decision today, which was obtained by the AP, Judge Portilla said that Calderon and Zurita had besmirched Correa’s “honor, dignity, good name (and) professional prestige within the country and abroad” by claiming that he had known of his brother Fabricio’s road construction contracts with the state. (Correa had denied the claims from the moment the two reporters first made them in 2009, according to the AP.)

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Calderon claimed that Correa "did not present a single piece of evidence,” according to the AP.

According to Reuters, the Committee to Protect Journalists released a report in September charging that media freedom in Ecuador was in danger because of Correa’s civil and criminal defamation lawsuits and that he was pre-empting private news broadcasts, enacting restrictive legal measures, and smearing critics.
 

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