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Ecuadorian judge determines that journalist Martín Pallares is not guilty in case filed by Rafael Correa



“Innocent.” These were the words Ecuadorian journalist Martín Pallares used to summarize the judge’s decision in a July 3 hearing for a suit filed against the journalist by former President Rafael Correa. The ex-leader, who was not present at the hearing, sued Pallares on June 5 in response to an article he wrote.

Martín Pallares (Photo: JSK Stanford)

According to Correa, Pallares' article entitled "If they caught Correa stealing, he could say he was looking after it,” contained "expressions in disparagement and dishonor" against him, according to Fundamedios. In his suit, he invoked a law that could come with a punishment of up to 30 days in prison and requested "civil damages in the amount that you consider pertinent," reported 4Pelagatos, the site Pallares co-founded.

After hearing the arguments of the complainant and the defense, the judge determined that while it was proven Pallares wrote the article, the idea that Correa was affected by it was not shown, according to the Twitter account of Observatorio Derechos y Justicia. Correa's defense has announced it will appeal the decision, El Telégrafo reported.

On Twitter, Juan Pablo Albán, one of the journalist's lawyers, expressed his displeasure that the hearing had taken place despite "procedural vices."  

“The only 'evidence' is that [Pallares] wrote an article. All wrong," wrote Farith Simon, another of Pallares’ lawyers.

In his article, published on April 25, 2017 on the site 4Pelagatos, Pallares said Correa is "able to twist the meaning of words so that they conform to what is best for him," referring to the case of a former energy minister in the country who is being investigated for corruption in the case of the global Odebrecht scandal.

According to Pallares, in statements when he was still president, Correa defended the former minister by assuring that he received a million dollars when he was not yet an official, so the irregularity was in not having declared it.

“Pallares commented that he made a simile about it to demonstrate the absurd logic of the former leader, but said he has not accused him of anything,” according to Fundamedios.

In his complaint, Correa stated that the journalist "refers to me with expressions that affect my honor, accusing me of acts that conflict with law and morality, and in doing so also using a widely distributed media outlet of communication, provides evidence for the malicious intention of causing me harm," Fundamedios added.=

During the hearing there were confrontations between Correa's supporters and those who were supporting Pallares. The hashtags #TodxsSomosMartin (We’re All Martín) and #CorreaVsPallares were used to report what happened at the hearing.

The suit filed by Correa again generated debate on the protection of freedom of expression and of the press. The journalist questioned that Correa filed the suit as a citizen when the article was published while he was still president and therefore should have been more tolerant of criticism.

Correa left office on May 24, 2017 and was succeeded by one of his former vice presidents, Lenín Moreno.

“This is a matter of freedom of expression and a President is obliged to assume responsibilities, to receive the criticism and the scrutiny of the citizens, their constituents. This is a topic of trying to criminalize opinion, but opinions can not be considered crimes,” Pallares said, according to Fundamedios.

For its part, the site of which Pallares is founder along with other colleagues, indicated they would defend themselves in this case.

“4Pelagatos will confront this suit from the meaning it has: another attack on freedom of expression from Correa. A new show of his desire to intimidate and punish, now from the widow of power, voices and pens that did not give up during his authoritarian rule. This trial will be carried out under the Lenín Moreno government and will serve to show whether judges now act bound to the law. Or if they still receive orders from a former president who, in addition to being authoritarian and intolerant, sees ghosts where there are none,” the portal wrote.

Confrontations between the press and Correa are widely known. Beginning the first day of his presidency, he called it "the enemy.” Later, through his weekly broadcasts known as 'sabatinas,' he constantly criticized it, usually calling it "corrupt press" and some journalists "assassins of ink".

Pallares was one of his targets. Correa labeled him in different ways as sick, inept, lying, incapable, among other things. In fact, in 2013 the NGO Fundamedios published a report entitled 'The case of Martín Pallares or the stigmas of being a journalist.’

In 2015, Pallares was fired from El Comercio newspaper where he had worked for 13 years because he refused to let the media outlet put conditions on how he expressed his opinion on Twitter. According to Pallares, the newspaper's management had said he was “exposing the company because of [his] way of treating the President of the Republic and because he had produced many clashes with the Alvarado brothers" who at the time were Secretaries of Public Administration and Communication.

At the time, Pallares told the Knight Center that the fear felt by journalists and the media had to do with the Organic Law of Communication (LOC for its acronym in Spanish) that can impose a series of sanctions that include exorbitant fines and can lead to self-censorship.

This past June 25 was the four year anniversary of the LOC. In that time, 675 media outlets and journalists have been sanctioned.



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