Saturday, 26 September 2015

Free Speech Crackdown, Ecuador

Free Speech Crackdown, Ecuador Edition
The United Nations and leading human rights groups routinely bash Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s Egypt for cracking down on the press and stifling free expression. Add a new strongman to the list: Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, whose administration has waged an increasingly aggressive campaign against both the media and the free speech rights of ordinary citizens.
Ecuador’s most recent target? Quito-based Fundamedios, a group founded in 2007 to support journalists and safeguard freedom of expression and association, according to the organization’s website. The group collects statistics and issues reports on threats to journalists and media organizations. They also hold trainings, workshops, and events to educate the public about press freedom and the law.
But Correa’s government, which has broad power to regulate NGOs, isshutting them down over accusations that the organization deviated from its stated mission and broke laws that prevent NGOs from participating in partisan politics by republishing political blog posts. Fundamedios is attempting to fight the closure.
In a letter to the group’s executive director, César Ricaurte, the office of the secretary of communication wrote that the organization “demonstrates a clear intention to become a political actor that seeks to generate public mistrust regarding issues outside their jurisdiction.”
That sparked fierce criticism from the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which on Thursday issued a joint statement condemning the move.
This is not the first time in recent history that Ecuador has prompted international hand-wringing over its free speech practices.

Carlos Lauría, who coordinates Latin America programs for the Committee to Protect Journalists, told Foreign Policy that Ecuador “has one of the worst freedom of speech records in Latin America.” Below, FP compiled a list of five key moments in Correa’s campaign against free speech:This is not the first time in recent history that Ecuador has prompted international hand-wringing over its free speech practices.

June 25, 2013: Correa’s government passed a sweeping communications law purporting to address the very real problem of media bias in the country. According to Reporters Without Borders, the privately owned press had been “tendentious if not actually oppositional.”
However, the law also included a ban on “media lynching,” a requirement that all news coverage be “verified, balanced, contextualized and opportune” and a “right to correction” for anyone who feels they have been treated unfairly by the press. The vague nature of the law has worked to the government’s benefit: According to Lauría, it has allowed the government to issue more than 100 sanctions against media companies and journalists in the past two years.
December 2013 – January 2014: Government forces searched the home of journalist and activist Fernando Villavicencio. When Ecuadorian daily El Universo published a cartoon depicting the search, the government fined the newspaper 2 percent of sales profits from its fourth quarter, which reportedlyamounted to $90,000. Authorities also ordered Xavier Bonilla, the cartoonist, to issue a correction. Bonilla was sanctioned and forced to apologize again in 2015 when he published a cartoon the government labeled discriminatory.
December 2014 – February 2015: Correa began to attack those who criticized him on the Internet and social media during his weekly Saturday addresses to the nation. His main target, Gabriel González, anonymously ran a humor website called Crudo Ecuador that published photo montages and videosmaking fun of everything from Valentine’s Day to footballers to Correa himselfGonzález was outed on Twitter, followed and photographed, and received an apparent threat against his family in the form of a bouquet of flowers. The anonymous note attached to the bouquet congratulated him on his “beautiful family,” referred to his wife and sons by name, and read: “Believe me, you can count on our interest and attention as long as your bravery lasts.”
Aug. 13, 2015: Franco-Brazilian journalist Manuela Picq was beaten by police and arrested while covering protests against Correa. Picq, who had lived in Ecuador for eight years, was jailed and stripped of her visa. She was charged with violating the terms of her cultural exchange visa, which precluded her from taking part in political protests. Picq maintains that she was not part of the protests, but had gone to observe as a journalist.
Aug. 15, 2015: Correa declared a “state of exception” due to the pending eruption of Cotopaxi, a large volcano near Quito, the country’s capital. Claiming it would defuse citizen panic, Correa also issued a decree of “prior censorship,” which prohibits the sharing of “unauthorized” information about the volcano — whether in public, private, or on social networks. “Citizens will only get information from the official bulletins of the Coordinating Ministry of Security,” the decree reads. This apparently precludes ordinary citizens, or even scientists, from sharing unofficial information about the volcano.

Friday, 11 September 2015


 Closing Fundamedios is the latest in a pattern of restrictive measures by President Rafael Correa’s government to crack down on protesters, says Amnesty International Photograph: Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images
Where: Ecuador
Who is affected: Fundamedios, an Ecuadorian NGO that monitors, researches and defends the right to freedom of expression.
What happened: The Ecuadorian government has issued the NGO with an order to close down, saying the NGO was spreading messages with political overtones not conducive to social development. The NGO gathers statistics on abuses of freedom of expression by the government and issues alerts when journalists report being harassed in the country. Fundamedios had been warned in June to stop issuing alerts, and had previously been asked for their financial information by the Ministry of Communication.
What are the implications: From 2008-2012, the NGO has recorded nearly 600 attacks on journalists, but if the NGO is dissolved there will be no other NGOs in the country to monitor freedom of expression. The NGO has 10 days to appeal against the judgement. 
According to Amnesty International this is the latest in a pattern of restrictive measures by President Rafael Correa’s government to crack down on protesters. In 2013, the govenment issued a new protest law, and in January,Fundacion Pachamama, an NGO that had campaigned on the behalf on indigenous communities whose land the government had sold off was ordered to close under Ecuador’s Decree 16.
According to James Savage from Amnesty International: “We need to put this closure in the context of the greater freedom of the right to protest. We are concerned this latest action is another attempt by President Correa to restrict the core human rights of freedoms of assembly, association and expression in Ecuador. We’ve already seen land and environmental defenders locked up on spurious charges, new laws restricting the right to protest and and reports of excessive use of force by police and military against mass protests, and the issuance of Decree 16 giving President Correa sweeping powers to dissolve NGOs.”