Free Speech in Ecuador has Limits

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Marco Werman: Two weeks ago Ecuador's President Rafael Correa granted asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who had taken refuge in the country's embassy in London kicking off a diplomatic standoff that could go on for a long time. Ecuador may have gone out on a limb to save the poster boy for freedom of the press, but inside Ecuador it's a different scene. A 2011 report from the committee to protect journalists says President Correa's press freedom record is among the very worst in the Americas. And yesterday it was announced that asylum was granted by the United States for an Ecuadorian journalist Emilio Palacio. Last year in Ecuador Palacio was fined millions of dollars and sentenced to jail for an opinion piece he wrote about President Correa. Sandra Grossman is Palacio's U.S. based attorney and she joins us from Miami. Can you describe, first of all, the article that got Palacio into trouble in the first place?

Sandra Grossman: Absolutely. The article was titled "No to the lies" and it was published in the opinion section of El Universal newspaper. And basically what the article did was condemn President Correa's handling of a police revolt which took place in Ecuador on September thirtieth of twenty-ten. It was bloody it was costly there were, I think, more than eight people killed, more then two hundred seventy people wounded and basically the revolt led to much debate and disagreement in Ecuador about what really happened that day. So my client addressed this event in his article and criticized the president for his handling of the revolt.

Werman: So tell us more about these defamation laws the President Correa has been using. Did he fine tune them for his own needs or have they been on the books for some time?

Grossman: You know, the president since he's taken power in 2007 we've seen that he's been utilizing these laws exponentially more than any other administration has done in the Ecuadorian government and that's part of what the committee to protect journalists and numerous other independent freedom of the press organizations from around the world are reporting on and picking up on that these types of lawsuits are increasingly being used to silence journalists in that country and my client's case is just one of many.

Werman: It was reported that President Correa had thrown out the charges and fines and pardoned Palacio and if that is the case what does he have to fear still?

Grossman: He has a lot to fear. President Correa did pardon the imposition of the sentence against my client and against the owner's of El Universal newspaper but actually the conviction remains and acts as a legal precedent against my client. So that if any other lawsuit is ever instituted against him (actually there are already others) he would be viewed as a recidivist and would be subject to even greater civil and criminal penalties.

Werman: With Julian Assange still in the Ecuadorian embassy in London trying, one can assume, to avoid ultimately getting extradited to the U.S., what might the U.S. have gained by granting asylum to Pallacio?

Grossman: That's an interesting question and, you know, I am not, definitely, involved in the Assange case. The decision to grant asylum was made the day after the Assange decision. Nevertheless, we have information that there was a recommended approval way before the Assange affair even became an international issue. You know, I see President Correa's actions as very contradictory considering how he treats journalists in his own country and maybe the United States in using this opportunity to make that point as well.

Werman: If freedom of the press is so shoddy in Ecuador maybe it's not the safe haven Julian Assange thinks it is. Do you have any advice for him if he does manage to get out of the embassy in London and onto a plane to Ecuador?

Grossman: I would advise him not to write anything criticizing the president.

Werman: Sandra Grossman, a lawyer specializing in complex immigration and asylum cases, thank you very much for your time.

Grossman: Thank you.