Report to the 75th General Assembly of the IAPA

October 4 – 7, 2019

Coral Gables, Florida

During this period press freedom benefited from some positive events that partially weakened the official censorship exercised by the government of former president Rafael Correa. On August 1, the Superintendency of Communication (Supercom) - the official censorship agency of the Correa era - was taken down. Likewise, a ruling of the Constitutional Court revoked sentences against the newspaper La Hora on rectifications ordered by the previous government, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recommended the State to compensate morally and financially the directors and a former columnist of the newspaper El Universo - for having been persecuted and harassed by Correa.

Relatives of El Comercio journalists murdered in April 2018 in Mataje - on the Colombian-Ecuadorian border - criticized the slow pace of investigations by the Attorney General's Office and the silence of the Ecuadorian government, after a new video emerged showing the victims - sent as proof of life by the Oliver Sinisterra front. The Attorney General's Office is calling on high-ranking officials who had to do with the information about the kidnapping to come forward with their version. A new thesis suggests that Paúl Rivas, Javier Ortega and Efraín Segarra died in movement and not by execution. According to the autopsy published by the website Código Vidrio and El Espectador de Colombia, they would have received "several gunshots through the left side of their bodies and through the back in an upward trajectory." The three were abducted on March 26 in the border area and were reportedly killed on April 7.

The case of journalist Fausto Valdiviezo - killed on April 11, 2013 - remains unpunished. He was shot three times as he was leaving his mother's house. Fifty-two witnesses were scheduled to testify on April 18, but the hearing failed because only five witnesses showed up. The prosecutor continues to investigate the motives of the crime.

On May 10, it was announced that "no public official or employee is authorized to give statements to the media or journalists about operations, previous investigations, or matters of institutional or similar interest." The Attorney General's Protocol for Spokespersons and Media Interviews establishes that the only person authorized to speak to the press is the Attorney General and whoever is appointed in each province. If an official is approached by a journalist, he or she should not make any statements.

On May 31, the Inter-Institutional Committee for the Protection of Journalists and Communication Workers held a meeting with government representatives, but did not include the journalistic sectors - causing unrest in Fundamedios and the National Union of Journalists (UNP).

On August 1, the Superintendency of Communication (Supercom) was permanently closed after six years of operation and 1,212 cases against the press. The closure had been established in the reform to the Communication Law. The former head of that entity, Carlos Ochoa, is still at large.

On July 17, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued an in-depth report in favor of El Universo in relation to the lawsuit filed against the State as a result of the sentence passed in Ecuador in 2012 against three executives of the newspaper, Carlos, César and Nicolás Pérez, and their former editor of Opinión Emilio Palacio.

On September 4, in a unanimous ruling against the gag, the Constitutional Court (CC) revoked two judgments from the Correa era against the daily La Hora. In 2012, the state filed a protective action against the newspaper for allegedly violating the right to truthful information and rectification. The appeal was accepted in 2012 and ratified in 2013 by the First Chamber of Criminal Guarantees of the Provincial Court of Pichincha, because according to magistrates La Hora failed to publish a rectification of the article entitled "2012: 71 million in propaganda," which included information about Corporación Participación Ciudadana that bothered the government of Rafael Correa. The CC established in its ruling that the judges who heard the protective action were wrong - since the appeal was inadmissible.

In compliance with standards, the Constitutional Court marked an important step towards full enforcement of the right to free expression in the country. The ruling generates jurisprudence by including that the State "does not hold the rights to honor, truthful information and rectification", so that the protection actions raised by public institutions against individuals for the alleged violation of such rights.

In March, Alianza PAIS assembly member Daniel Mendoza presented a bill on the Organic Law for the Responsible Use of Social Networks - which was later rejected. It sought to regulate hatred on these platforms, to prohibit the dissemination of fake news or information not obtained from official sources.

Other important events in this period.

On April 11, the government of President Lenín Moreno lifted the diplomatic asylum status of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange who - by Correa's orders - had taken refuge since 2012 in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. After the decision, Assange was arrested by the British police. Moreno explained that he suppressed Assange's right to asylum due to "permanent political interference in the internal affairs of other countries" and because he "repeatedly violated the asylum conventions" during his stay at the embassy.

On April 19, dozens of workers and former employees of the seized media: Gamavisión, Cable Visión, América Visión, Súper K 800 and Editorial Uminasa, demanded payment of their salaries, bonuses, and contributions to the Ecuadorian Social Security Institute (IESS).

On April 21, the Telecommunications Regulation and Control Agency (Arcotel) called for the first competitive public process for the assignment of available broadcasting frequencies of open signal for the operation of private and community media for the provinces of Santa Elena, Loja, Morona Santiago and Galápagos.

On June 28, journalist Luis Alvarado was detained and held by police for at least an hour for having taken photographs of a police operative on streets 11 and Huancavilca. The reporter said that when he saw the police arrest two subjects he took photos for his journalistic record, and when the policemen realized what he had done, they asked for his identification - which he showed. However, they said they would take him before a prosecutor inside the Flagrancy Unit for alleged "violation of privacy."

On June 29, sympathizers of the president of the Council for Citizen Participation and Social Control (CPCCS), José Tuárez verbally harassed several journalists covering the session of the Council for Citizen Participation and Social Control in the city of Guayaquil.

On August 31, the Minister of Telecommunications, Andrés Michelena, assured that the process of assignation of frequencies would begin in the next months and will conclude in 2020. The first phase will be in October for television; then, between late November and early December for FM radio stations, and in January for AM radio stations.

On September 20, Twitter eliminated 1,019 accounts associated with the Alianza PAIS movement in Ecuador. The network - made up of fake accounts - was used to fraudulently influence and alter trends, violating the platform's authenticity rule.

On September 27, journalists from RTS, TC Television and Carchi News 1 were violently harassed by police during coverage of social protests in Tulcán. Also, that day, demonstrators attacked a Teleamazonas correspondent during coverage of an anti-mining protest in Bolívar province.