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Ecuador judge orders jail, $40 million in fines in president's libel suit against newspaper
QUITO, Ecuador (AP) ' An Ecuadorean judge sentenced three members of a newspaper's board of directors and a former columnist to three years in prison Wednesday for libeling President Rafael Correa in a column that questioned an army raid to rescue the president from striking policemen.
The court also fined the four a total of $30 million and levied an additional $10 million fine against El Universo, Ecuador's main opposition newspaper.
Regional and international press freedom groups have protested Correa's libel suit against the newspaper, saying it was part of an effort to muzzle the media.
Alembert Vera, a lawyer for Ecuador's leftist president, lauded the ruling as a blow for responsible journalism.
"For the first time in Ecuador's history the right to equality has been defended ... the right to insult no longer exists and any citizen can demand that their honor be restored," Vera said.
The author of the column, Emilio Palacio, called the sentence "a barbarity."
"We will immediately ask for the ruling to be annulled and at the same time we will appeal it," he told Radio Sonorama.
The article at the heart of the case was titled "No to the Lies" and referred to Correa as "the Dictator."
The column said Correa "ordered discretionary fire ' without prior notification ' against a hospital full of civilians and innocent people" during the Sept. 30 police revolt over government plans to cut police benefits.
Correa had taken refuge in the hospital after confronting demonstrators who roughed him up. Government officials called in soldiers to rescue the president from armed insurgents who they say had surrounded the building.
Human Rights Watch previously criticized the lawsuit and called on Ecuador to repeal its legal code so it no longer allows for criminal prosecutions for defamation.