Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa on Monday pardoned three owner-editors and a columnist at the El Universo newspaper who had been convicted of defaming him in a controversial press freedom case.
Brothers Carlos, Cesar and Nicolas Perez and columnist Emilio Palacio had been ordered to pay $42 million in fines and serve three years in prison for publishing an allegedly libelous opinion piece by Palacio in February 2011 in the Guayaquil-based paper, the nation's second-largest.
In the article, Palacio referred to Correa as a dictator and accused him of ordering authorities to fire indiscriminately at a hospital crowded with civilians during a 2010 police mutiny.
"Even though many don't want me to make concessions to those who don't deserve it, this is something that I decided in my heart to do some time ago, along with relatives, friends and close comrades, to pardon the accused and to revoke the sentences they deservedly got," Correa said during a televised speech Monday at the presidential palace in Quito, the capital.
He added that the sentence proved three things: that the editors lied, that a newspaper is responsible for what its writers publish and that citizens shouldn't be afraid of confronting the news media.
"It showed you can prevail against abuses of media power," Correa said of the libel verdicts, which were upheld this month by the nation's high court.
Special correspondents Munoz reported from Quito and Kraul from Los Angeles.