Ecuador journalists convicted in Correa libel case

Columnist Emilio Palacio outside the court Columnist Emilio Palacio said the men would appeal against the court ruling

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A judge in Ecuador has sentenced three executives and a former columnist from the main opposition newspaper to jail for libelling President Rafael Correa.

The libel action was brought by Mr Correa after El Universo published an article questioning an army raid to rescue him from striking policemen.

Convicted columnist Emilio Palacio called the sentence "a barbarity".

The men were each sentenced to three years in prison and fined a total of $30m (£18m).

An additional $10m (£6m) fine was slapped on the newspaper by the court in the coastal city of Guayaquil.

"We will immediately ask for the ruling to be annulled and at the same time we will appeal it," Mr Palacio told Radio Sonorama.

"With an appeal we will go to a second instance and there is still a third instance."

Mr Correa welcomed the court ruling "with great happiness because it is a historic moment", his lawyer Alembert Vera said.

"From now on any citizen can demand that their good name and honour be respected, which is true freedom of expression," Mr Vera added.

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa (file image) President Correa turned down an offer of an out-of-court settlement

Mr Correa was rescued by the Ecuadorean army last October during a violent protest in the capital Quito by police officers over cuts to their benefits.

He was tear-gassed by his own police force and then trapped inside a police hospital surrounded by protesting officers for more than 12 hours.

Several people were killed or injured in the unrest, which Mr Correa insisted was a coup attempt.

In an article published in El Universo in February, Mr Palacio referred to Mr Correa as "the dictator" and said the president had ordered soldiers to fire on the hospital.

The paper later tried to reach an out-of-court settlement and offered to print a correction, but Mr Correa turned both down.

The libel case has been criticised by press freedom groups as part of an effort to muzzle the media in Ecuador.

Mr Correa has accused much of the independent press in his country of being corrupt and of manipulating the truth.

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