Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has pardoned three owners and a journalist of the country's main opposition newspaper, who faced jail terms and $42 million in fines for libeling him.
“I’ve decided to... pardon the accused and grant them remission of the sentences they rightly received,” President Correa said in a statement broadcast live on television on Monday.
An article in the newspaper El Universo
alleged that the president ordered troops to open fire on a violent demonstration by striking police officers in September 2010, without due consideration for the safety of nearby innocent civilians.
The three owners of El Universo
, brothers Carlos, Cesar, and Nicolas Perez, and former columnist Emilio Palacio were found guilty of libeling the president.
They were each given three-year prison terms and ordered to pay a total of $42 million in fines and damages.
At two separate hearings, lower courts confirmed the sentences, which were issued for a column published in March 2011 that also described Correa as “a dictator.”
“I never wanted this trial. I never wanted anyone arrested,” President Correa said.
Correa’s government regards the violent police protest as a failed coup and an attempt on the life of Correa.
The leftist president is extremely popular in the South American country, mostly due to high government spending on public services and infrastructure.