Ecuador Internacional

Ecuador Fundamedios Media Watchdog's Impending Closure Creates International Backlash Over Free Speech

International Business Times - Brianna Lee 16/09/2015

Photo: International Business Times

Photo: International Business Times

Fundamedios was founded that year to help keep tabs on the state of free press in Ecuador. It regularly issues reports on threats or attacks against journalists and government efforts to censor publications. Ecuador’s secretary of communications issued a letter to the organization Sept. 8 saying it would be dissolved for violating a statute barring social organizations from getting involved in “politically partisan activities.” The missive pointed to several posts on Fundamedios’ Twitter account that linked to articles critical of the Correa administration as evidence of the violation.

The group has until Thursday to appeal the decision, but there are no expectations that such a move would be successful. The notification was meant to "put our head on a silver platter into the hands of our main aggressors," César Ricaurte, Fundamedios' executive director, told Ecuador’s El Comercio newspaper last week. “It’s evident that [the secretary of communications] is the operator and executor of a curtain of constant harassment against independent journalism.” It is unclear if there have ever been any successful comparable appeals.

International rights groups including Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists have criticized the decision in recent days. “The Correa administration wants to punish an organization for tweeting articles with news and opinions it doesn’t like,” Daniel Wilkinson, Human Rights Watch’s managing director for the Americas, said in a statement. “This is an egregious abuse of power and a clear example of this government’s authoritarian practices.”

Press freedom has been one of Ecuador’s thorniest issues under Correa’s presidency. The president won his first major lawsuit against a news outlet in 2012 when the four owners of El Universal newspaper were convicted of libel, sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay fines totaling $80 million for publishing an opinion piece critical of the administration. Correa eventually pardoned them, but the government continued to fine or shutter news outlets over violating various government regulations -- measures that free-speech watchdogs, including Fundamedios, deemed retaliation against outlets airing criticism of government.

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