Situation of the Right to Freedom of Expression in Ecuador

Protesters advocating for freedom of expression in Ecuador awaiting the arrival of the Petitioners and the State of Ecuador.

Participants: Center for Civil and Human Rights at the University of Notre Dame, Fundación Andina para la Observación y Estudio de Medios, Asociación Ecuatoriana de Editores de Periódicos del Ecuador, Fundación para el Debido Proceso Legal, Unión Nacional de Periodistas del Ecuador, Diario el Universo, Government of Ecuador
Country:
Ecuador
Topic:
Thematic hearing on freedom of expression in Ecuador.

On October 25, 2011, the Center for Civil and Human Rights at the University of Notre Dame, Fundación Andina para la Observación y Estudio de Medios (FUNDAMEDIOS), Asociación Ecuatoriana de Editores de Periódicos del Ecuador (AEDEP), Fundación para el Debido Proceso Legal (DPLF), Unión Nacional de Periodistas del Ecuador (UNP), Diario el Universo, and representatives from the State of Ecuador including the Minister of Foreign Affairs Ricardo Patiño, participated in a thematic hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on the state of freedom of expression in Ecuador.

Representatives from civil society and journalist organizations voiced concerns over the deterioration of the freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Ecuador, blaming the State and specifically the President for harassment, censorship, and detention. The petitioners provided several extreme examples of censorship by the State including a three-year prison sentence, a fine of $40 million to be paid to the President, and charges of terrorism and sabotage. Petitioners also noted that the President has sued publications and journalists known for advocating for freedom of expression and the State has shut down radio stations. There are over 20 legal proceedings concerning media outlets, many of which concern commentary on public acts of the President. The petitioners also pointed out that there has been an increase in rhetoric justifying and calling for attacks on journalists. Additionally, petitioners noted that there has been an increase in legislation criminalizing slander and libel, with at least five bills attacking freedom of expression, accompanied by an overhaul of the judiciary that eliminates checks and balances.

The petitioners requested that the IACHR visit Ecuador to investigate the state of freedom of expression.  In addition to the visit, the petitioners asked that the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression draft a report on the findings. Finally, the petitioners asked the State to halt proceedings against journalists and media outlets, stop legislation criminalizing slander, and monitor the restructuring of the justice system to ensure fairness.

Ecuador’s Attorney General and Minister of Foreign Affairs represented the State before the IACHR. The State noted that the hearing fell under art. 62 of the IACHR Rules of Procedure, allowing for a hearing on a general matter within a State party. The State argued that many of the issues raised by petitioners were outside the scope of the hearing, including issues of due process, judicial reform, and specific civil suits. The State also claimed that the petitioners had failed to exhaust all domestic remedies before raising these issues before the IACHR. The State went on to inform the IACHR of the progress made since the previous hearing.  The Minister of Foreign Affairs emphasized the State’s general concern for individual freedom of expression evidenced by new provisions in the State’s Constitution. The Minister also noted the difference between media outlets and individual journalists and claimed that the State regulates the media to eliminate monopolies and further promote freedom of expression.

The Special Rapporteur to Ecuador asked the State to submit evidence of the State’s antitrust measures aimed at regulating media monopolies. Catalina Botero, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, was careful to note the difference between criticism of the State or President and slander, raising the question of whether the criminalization of slander applies to both the media and private individuals.

In conclusion, each side took time to reiterate their main points. The petitioners emphasized that the President’s interference in the judiciary and civil suits against  journalists is a problem, and that it lends support to further infringement on freedom of expression.  The State concluded by revisiting the limited scope of the thematic hearing and stressing the difference between regulation of media monopolies and the citizenry’s freedom of expression.

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