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Ecuador - Letter to President Correa from PEN International and PEN centres in Latin America and the Caribbean

Tuesday 13 March 2012 - 12:00am

13 March 2012

In 2011, President Correa of Ecuador brought a criminal complaint against El Universo over an article that made a number of serious accusations against him. The president demanded jail sentences and large fines for those responsible. Despite the newspaper’s offer to publish a correction, on 20 July 2011 three-year prison sentences and US$40 million in fines were handed down to Emilio Palacio, (the writer of the article), and to each of the newspaper publishers.

During January and February, 2012, PEN International campaigned on the worrying state of free expression in Ecuador. As part of this campaign, PEN urged President Correa to reform criminal libel law in Ecuador, to withdraw his case against El Universo and to ensure that Ecuador observed its free expression obligations under international human rights treaties.

On 27 February 2012, President Correa pardoned the directors and former editor of El Universo. However, PEN remains concerned about the state of free expression in Ecuador, and by the continuing existence of criminal libel laws.

Latin American and Caribbean PEN centres share these concerns and have signed a letter to President Correa, asking for reform of Ecuador’s criminal libel laws and for a repeal of all norms that criminalize defamation of public officials and institutions.

Please see below for the text of the letter, or here for the pdf version: Letter to President Rafael Correa of Ecuador

Presidente Rafael Correa
Palacio de Carondelet,
García Moreno No. 10-43, entre Chile y Espejo,

Dear President Correa,

We write to you as the International President of PEN International, the Executive Director of PEN International, the Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International and the respective presidents of the Latin American and Caribbean centres of PEN International, the writers’ and free expression organisation with more than one hundred centres worldwide.

We warmly welcome your recent decision to pardon Emilio Palacio, Carlos Nicolás Pérez Lapentti, Carlos Pérez Barriga, and César Pérez, respectively former-editor and owners of the newspaper El Universo. We are also pleased by your decision to withdraw the sentences imposed upon Juan Carlos Calderón and Cristian Zurita, authors of the book El Gran Hermano.

However, we remain deeply concerned by the state of free expression in Ecuador, and especially by the existence and use of criminal libel laws against members of the press. The use of such laws by government officials creates, as it has done in other countries, a climate in which self-censorship becomes the norm. When free speech is muzzled like this, democracy is put at peril.

More than a decade ago, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights established that the use of criminal law to sanction expressions about public officials violates article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights which protects freedom of expression. It stated that such sanctions were unnecessary, disproportionate, and could not be justified by any imperative social interest, and that they also constituted a form of indirect censorship.

Your recent decisions regarding El Universo and the authors of El Gran Hermano were welcomed globally. We now urge you to continue in this direction, by leading a reform of Ecuador’s criminal libel laws and repealing all norms that criminalize defamation of public officials and institutions.

Yours Sincerely,

John Ralston Saul,
International President, PEN International

Laura McVeigh,
Executive Director, PEN International

Marian Botsford Fraser,
Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International

Cláudio Aguiar,
President, PEN Clube do Brasil

Eduardo José Blandón,
President, Centro PEN Guatemala

Melita del Carpio
President, PEN Bolivia

Jennifer Clement,
President, PEN Club México

Jean-Euphèle Milcé,
President, PEN Haití

Elizabeth Starcevic,
President, San Miguel Allende PEN

Juan Carlos Vílchez,
President, PEN Nicaragua