Freedom of Expression

Press Release R188/18

Office of the Special Rapporteur concludes its visit to Ecuador and presents its preliminary observations and recommendations on freedom of expression in the country

 August 24, 2018

Quito - The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Edison Lanza, conducted an official visit to Ecuador to assess the situation of freedom of expression in the country. The Special Rapporteur visited Ecuador from August 20-24 and presented his preliminary observations and recommendations at a press conference held on the final day. The visit is part of a series of special actions by the Office of the Special Rapporteur to promote the right to freedom of expression in Ecuador.

During the mission, the Special Rapporteur visited the cities of Quito and Guayaquil, where he participated in meetings and visits. Edison Lanza met with journalists and media executives, representatives of civil society, victims of violations of freedom of expression committed during the previous administration, and relatives of the team of journalists from the newspaper El Comercio, and also visited the newspaper El Universo in Guayaquil. He met with President Lenín Moreno, Foreign Minister José Valencia, and other representatives of the Executive Branch and the Judiciary, including the Chief Justice of the National Court of Justice, the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court of Justice of Guayas, the Prosecutor General of the Republic, the acting Ombudsperson, the Deputy Minister of Information and Communication Technologies, the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Justice, Human Rights, and Religious Affairs, National Secretary of Communication Andrés Michelena and the National Under-Secretary of Communication, the President of the National Assembly, the General Manager of Public Media, the Director General of the International Center for Advanced Communication Studies for Latin America, the Telecommunications Regulation and Oversight Agency (ARCOTEL), the Council for Regulation and Development of Information and Communication (CORDICOM), the Superintendent of Information and Communication, and the acting Attorney General of the Republic.

In addition, as part of his official visit, the Rapporteur met with representatives of the embassies of Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Chile, Peru, Colombia, the European Union, Brazil, and Switzerland.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur is grateful for the cooperation of the Government of Ecuador in facilitating and organizing the visit and for the extraordinary participation and contribution of civil society, academia, journalists, and the media. It also acknowledges the support of the UNESCO Office in Quito and the University of San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) in Ecuador during the visit; and thanks the information offered by the OHCHR’s Human Rights Adviser in Ecuador.   

The preliminary observations and recommendations presented by the Special Rapporteur at the press conference will be more thoroughly developed in a country report to be published at a later date.

The visit shows that Ecuador is undergoing a transition process of its public institutions that seeks to overcome the consequences of the authoritarianism introduced by the previous presidential regime and to dismantle the repressive practices aimed at closing democratic space.

Between 2007 and 2017, the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression documented how the government of Ecuador, headed by President Rafael Correa, designed and implemented a systematic policy to discredit, stigmatize, constrain, and punish—through the use of criminal and administrative law—journalists, the media, human rights defenders, and political opponents. Journalists who investigated and disseminated information that the government considered to be false or contrary to its interests, social leaders, human rights defenders, opponents who disseminated opinions and ideas contrary to the political movement that it called the "citizen revolution", as well as trade unions, land rights organizations, and indigenous peoples’ organizations, were particularly targeted for this coordinated action by the State apparatus. These actions were accompanied by the enactment of laws aimed at placing the press and social organizations under government control, such as the Organic Law of Communication, Executive Decree No. 016, and the Comprehensive Organic Criminal Code. These legal actions were preceded by stigmatization campaigns against the press and political critics. Mandatory national government broadcasts and ceremonies or events led by the President of the Republic, known as "sabatinas", were used as a platform to discredit or mock journalists, social leaders, and dissidents. The justice and oversight institutions that were supposed to protect human rights were subject to interference and improper control by the Executive Branch.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur acknowledges as significant progress the measures taken by the current administration of President Lenín Moreno to put an end to these violations of the right to freedom of expression and to reverse their effects. This Office welcomes the steps taken to ensure public recognition of the importance of the work of the press and the defense of human rights in democratic society through statements by government authorities, public events, and the dialogue initiated with these sectors of society. It also views positively the fact that the State has initiated a process to reform the legal and institutional framework, as well as the State’s communication policy, in order to bring it into line with international norms and standards on freedom of expression. The Special Rapporteur particularly commends the introduction of a bill to the National Assembly to amend the Organic Law on Communication. It also welcomes information on pardons, corrections, and other measures taken to restore the rights of those who have been punished and prosecuted for exercising the right to freedom of expression.

The process of transition towards a democracy that guarantees freedom of expression for journalists, the media, social organizations, and the opposition must continue and be consolidated. Nearly a decade of legal and political persecution and harassment has had serious consequences on Ecuador’s democracy and has affected both private and community media, as well as social organizations and their role in society. Journalism as a profession and a fundamental institution of democracy has been weakened and discredited. Valuable members of the profession have been forced to leave journalism or the country for fear of retaliation and a lack of prospects, or they have suffered the chilling effect of the aforementioned policies. Fear and mistrust persist among human rights defenders.

Likewise, the recent kidnapping and murder of journalists Javier Ortiz, Paul Rivas, and Efraín Segarra, members of the daily paper El Comercio, by an organized crime group operating on the Ecuador-Colombia border—a heinous crime that the Office of the Special Rapporteur has condemned—was a tragic reminder of the State’s weakness in terms of preventing and protecting against violence toward the press. The Office of the Special Rapporteur hopes that the Special Follow-up Team of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, currently operating under the auspices of the State, will be able to help achieve truth and justice in this case.

In view of the above, this Office presents a series of preliminary recommendations to the State with a view to bringing Ecuador’s legal system, practices, and policies into line with international norms and standards on freedom of expression and comprehensive reparation aimed at the restitution, compensation, and rehabilitation of the victims, as well as general measures of satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to encourage the hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in the consolidation and development of the democratic system.