Authorities in Ecuador have arrested a critic of President Rafael Correa on defamation charges, continuing the pattern of his government’s aggressive use of libel suits to target political opponents.
El Universo reports that yesterday morning police in Quito detained Dr. Carlos Figueroa, a former head of Ecuador's Federation of Medical Doctors who has been wanted since March. Along with opposition lawmaker Jose Clever Jimenez and journalist Fernando Alcibiades Villavicencio, Figueroa is accused of slandering Correa by filing a request with the attorney general to investigate the president’s handling of a police uprising in September 2010. In their petition, the three alleged that Correa perpetrated “crimes against humanity” by ordering security forces to raid a hospital where he was being held.
In 2012 a judge dismissed the case, and ruled that it was “malicious and reckless,” constituting defamation of Correa’s character. Following a lengthy court battle, in March of this year Ecuador’s National Court of Justice sentenced Figueroa to six months in prison, while Jimenez and Villavicencio received sentences of 18 months each. When the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights requested that Ecuador take precautionary measures to protect the rights of the accused, this was swiftly rejected by the government.
The three then went into hiding, briefly taking refuge in the Sarayaku indigenous community in the Amazon before leaving again when their presence heightened tensions between locals and security forces.
As the case has played out, Correa has been vocal about condemning the three, describing their actions as not only slander, but false testimony as well. In the last high-profile libel case pursued by the president, two of his critics in the press were saved from paying a multimillion dollar fine by a last-minute presidential pardon. But Correa has shown no inclination towards clemency in this instance, saying that forgiving Jimenez would amount to impunity.
On top of Correa’s anti-slander crusade, some in the country have pointed to the implementation of controversial media law passed last year as further proof that the government is unfairly targeting opponents. Press freedom advocacy group Fundamedios, for instance, has accused the media watchdog created under the law of ignoring and failing to remedy complaints about inaccurate coverage in state media, while disproportionately targeting private media outlets that publish content that is critical of the government.
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