The latest twist in the lawsuit against El Universal by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has the original judge in the case seeking asylum. (Judge in Ecuador libel case flees country)
The judge, Monica Encalada, told the press she was seeking the protection of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission after she publicly accused the judicial system of being corrupt.
Encalada told a press conference in Bogata, Colombia, that lawyers for Correa promised her US$3,000 a month and steady work if she ruled in favor of the president.
The US$42 million criminal libel case was started by President Correa after El Universo criticized the president for actions the government took to free Correa while he was briefly held hostage by protesting policemen September 2010. A commentary by columnist Emilio Palacio in February 2011 suggesting that Correa could face criminal charges for allowing troops to storm the hospital and harm innocent people. Palacio also regularly referred to Correa as “the dictator” in the commentary.
The trial, which ruled against El Universo, ended in September. Palacio’s sentence was upheld in appeal in late December. By that time, Palacio had left El Universo and fled to Miami. Earlier this month he applied for political asylum in the United States.
A final appeal on the case reaffirmed the original court decision last week.
The final appeal came after Correa and about 20 of his cabinet ministers and top aides occupied much of the eighth-floor courtroom, according to press reports.
In a Twitter appeal from Correa, supporters quickly gathered outside the court, where they burned copies of newspapers and shouted “Down with El Universo.”
Correa supporters also roughed up several journalists covering the case and the demonstration.
Part of the appeals process focussed on how quickly the trial judge turned around his 150-page decision.
The judge, Juan Paredes, said he depended on the prepatory work done by Encalada. For her part, Encalada called Paredes a liar.
Encalada acknowledged giving Paredes a memory stick with part of the casework, but, she said, none of that material was in the final sentence. She added that he later told her that the decision and sentence was written by Correa’s legal team.
A court-approved Ecuadorian consultant found irregularities in the document. A U.S. consultant retained by the defense said his own examination showed that the decision was actually written by Correa’s attorney, Gutemberg Vera.
El Universo says the sentence was written on a pirated version of Microsoft Word registered to a fictitious “Chucky Seven,” but that has been traced back to Vera from other documents.
The “Chucky Seven” claims, as they are known in Ecuador, have been rejected by the government. The Correa team is doubling down on its attacks against El Universal by now accusing them of buying off Encalada.
The bottom line is that Correa has been attacking the free and independent media in Ecuador. The Committee to Protect Journalists called the most recent decision against El Universal “dangerous” and “sets a dark precedent for freedom of expression in the Americas.”