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Ecuadorian freedom of expression organization denounces government harassment, fears dissolution

Fundamedios director César Ricuarte. Image: Fundamedios

Ecuador’s National Secretariat for Communications (SECOM) has placed the freedom of expression organization Fundamedios under its administrative control. The organization believes this action seeks to harass them and fears it could lead to its dissolution.

In an email sent to various journalists, Fundamedios director Cesar Ricaurte said that on Jan. 16 he received a notification informing him that the organization, along with three media company guilds, would be “transferred” to SECOM. Four days later, SECOM requested financial reports dating all the way back to the organization’s creation.

Ricaurte said Fundamedios has refused to hand over information that “we know will be used against us.”

“We must point out that any document which leaves Fundamedios and is handed over to SECOM will be used solely to feed the smear campaign this state secretariat has nurtured for more than two years against our organization,” he said.

Ricaurte said the secretariat requested documents under Decree 16, which was issued by president Rafael Correa in June last year. The decree grants broad powers to the government to intervene in social organizations – including the ability to dissolve the entity – and was used to dismantle Fundación Pachamama in December. The country’s Constitutional Court has refused to accept three unconstitutionality lawsuits against the decree.

“We reiterate our will to continue resisting and working even in the face of a possible physical intervention into our organization (Decree 16 grants them the power to do so), a forced dissolution or even a voluntary dissolution,” Ricaurte said.

Fundamedios’s attorneys are currently contesting the legality of the transfer.

Fundamedios has been the target of constant criticism and attacks by President Rafael Correa for the organization’s reports and complaints against abuses to freedom of expression committed by his government. According to Ricaurte, harassment against Fundamedios began in 2011, after the organization participated in a hearing before the Inter American Commission on Human Rights in Washington D.C. in which they described to the state of human rights and freedom of the press in the country.

Ecuador has become one of the countries in the American continent with the most tensions between the government and the press. A recent report by Fundamedios documented 174 aggressions against freedom of expression in Ecuador during 2013 – the largest number recorded in the last five years – including new legal impositions created by the Organic Law on Communications and constant attacks by President Correa against journalists critical of his government.

Last week, cartoonist Xavier Bonilla “Bonil” was asked to appear before the Superintendent of Information and Communication — a new government agency created by the Communications Law — after publishing a cartoon last month that the authorities considered defamatory.


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