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Ecuador's Correa Pardons Journalists in Libel Disputes

Ecuador's leftist President Rafael Correa addresses the nation at Carondelet Palace in Quito, Ecuador, February 27, 2012.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa says he is pardoning three newspaper executives and a former columnist who had been convicted of libeling him, sentenced to jail and fined $40 million.

The sentences against the El Universo officials and former opinion page editor Emilio Palacio had drawn widespread criticism from rights groups as a blow to freedom of speech in Ecuador. The libel case stemmed from a column Palacio wrote last year calling Correa "the dictator" and alleging that the president had told troops to fire "without warning" on a hospital during a police uprising against him.

Earlier this month, the three-year sentences and hefty fine against the newspaper executives and Palacio were upheld by Ecuador's National Court of Justice, and the four men sought asylum in the United States and Panama.

Correa told a national TV audience Monday he knows that some of his countrymen "do not want any concessions to those who do not deserve it." Nonetheless, he said he had decided to use his power to grant pardons to forgive them. The president said he was eliminating the sentences "that they deservedly received."

The leftist president said the four were correct that there was a dictatorship in Ecuador, but that it was what he described as "the dictatorship of the media."

In a separate case, Correa said he also is pardoning two journalists who had been fined $1 million apiece for libeling him in a book over allegations that he knew his older brother had illegally been awarded public contracts.