Freedom of Expression

Press Release R76/18

The Office of the Special Rapporteur of the IACHR expresses extreme concern over the situation of the journalists kidnapped in the border between Ecuador and Colombia; and calls on both States to coordinate efforts to guarantee their release

April 3, 2018

Washington D.C. - The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its solidarity and extreme concern over the situation of journalists Javier Ortega and Paúl Rivas Bravo of El Comercio newspaper in Ecuador and the driver Efraín Segarra, kidnapped on March 26 in Mataje, on the Ecuadorian border with Colombia by an armed group. The Office of the Special Rapporteur of the IACHR condemns the kidnapping and calls on the authorities of Ecuador and Colombia to continue working together and adopt all necessary and appropriate measures to facilitate a prompt release of the journalistic team.

According to the information available, the journalist team was working in an area where dissident groups from the armed conflict would be operating. On the morning of April 3, the journalists appeared handcuffed in a video, while they sent a message to the President of Ecuador Lenin Moreno.

On Sunday April 1st, the relatives of the journalists and the driver kidnapped had decided to make public the identity of the three victims of the kidnapping, after keeping the information confidential for a week, as requested by the authorities. "We trust that the authorities, the Police and the Armed Forces, both from Ecuador and from Colombia, will make their whole personnel available, and will spare no efforts to bring back Efraían Segarra, Javier Ortega, and Paul Rivas, safe and sound," declared the relatives during a press conference.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur notes that the government of Ecuador has reported that "it has activated all security and investigation protocols in order to protect the integrity of the citizens" kidnapped. On March 27, Ecuador's Interior Minister, César Navas, confirmed in a press conference that the members of El Comercio's journalistic team were intercepted by unknown individuals after passing the military checkpoint in Mataje (Province of Esmeraldas) and that it is presumed that they would have been transferred to Colombian territory. On Saturday the 31st, the Minister met with the family of the kidnapped victims and reported on the health situation of the persons kidnapped, affirming that "the situation remains stable", while assuring that they continue working together with the Colombian authorities for their release.

On March 28, the commanding general of the Colombian Military Forces, General Alberto José Mejía, indicated that those responsible for the kidnaping belonged to the "Óliver Sinisterra" group, which has previously been made up of the Daniel Aldana Column of the FARC, under the command of alias 'Guacho', and indicated he could not confirm that they had been transferred to Colombian territory.

In the face of the situation of high risk faced by journalists, the Office of the Special Rapporteur urges the States of Ecuador and Colombia to continue to coordinate their efforts and adopt the necessary actions to guarantee the prompt release of the three persons involved, and guarantee the safety of those who practice journalism in the area.

In accordance with international standards on the safety of journalists, "States have an obligation to provide protection to journalists and others exercising their right to freedom of expression who are at a high risk of being attacked" in areas where organized crime operates or high conflict persists, journalists must be treated as civilians and all parties involved must respect the right to life and physical integrity.

Principle 9 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the IACHR states: "The murder, kidnapping, intimidation of and/or threats to social communicators, as well as the material destruction of communications media violate the fundamental rights of individuals and strongly restrict freedom of expression. It is the duty of the state to prevent and investigate such occurrences, to punish their perpetrators and to ensure that victims receive due compensation."

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the IACHR to encourage the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given the fundamental role this right plays in consolidating and developing the democratic system.