Press Release — HRF to Ecuador: Repeal Draconian Communications Law; End Persecution of the Press

NEW YORK — The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) condemns the government of Ecuador’s judicial and administrative actions after the April 2 elections to silence independent media, members of the democratic opposition, and polling companies.

HRF rejects the fines imposed by the Superintendence of Information and Communications (SUPERCOM) on seven news outlets for not publishing a report by an Argentinean newspaper that accused opposition candidate Guillermo Lasso of “unjust enrichment.” HRF also rejects the persecution of and death threats against employees of polling companies Cedatos and Corporacion Participacion Ciudadana for publishing exit polls that showed Lasso as the winner of the election and a “statistical tie,” respectively.

“After an election campaign that was neither fair nor free, and that was not overseen by an impartial and credible electoral system, the competitive-authoritarian regime of Rafael Correa has been re-elected through his former vice-president Lenin Moreno. This was made clear by the judicial persecution, abusive raids, and multiple fines that have followed the elections,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF.

Cedatos’ office was raided on April 7, the day after President Correa publicly announced that “it is time to tell these frauds that enough is enough.” The police stormed the company’s office and seized all files and computers. Cedatos has been operating in Ecuador for 41 years and is a member of Gallup International. Its employees now face a criminal lawsuit for “forging documents” and “using forged documents” in published exit polls that showed Lasso as the winner by a small margin. The director of Cedatos, Angel Polibio Cordoba, and the head of the nonprofit Coporacion Participacion Ciudadana, Ruth Hidalgo, were publicly accused as frauds by Correa, and both have reported receiving death threats daily as a result of the president’s accusations.

Lasso, who still has not accepted the results of the election because he considers them fraudulent, has been summoned by the Public Prosecutor’s Office to testify in the case against Cedatos. Alfonso Espinosa de los Monteros, a news anchor at Ecuavisa, has also been summoned to court in the same case for having tweeted Cedatos’ numbers that had Lasso as winner of the election.

In another court case that was resolved this week, nine members of the civil society group Comision Civica Anticorrupcion were convicted, fined, and sentenced to a year in prison. The General Comptroller, Carlos Polit, sued the organization for libel after they initiated investigations on a corruption case. The comptroller asked for the maximum penalty of two years and imposed a $100,000 fine on each one of them. Minutes after passing judgment, and shortly after president-elect Lenin Moreno tweeted asking the comptroller for “tolerance,” the judge “extinguished the trial” and acquitted the accused.

The fines of almost $4,000 imposed on each one of the seven independent media outlets, Ecuavisa, Teleamazonas, Televicentro, El Universo, El Comercio, Diario La Hora, and Diario Expreso were based on their alleged violation of article 18 of the Organic Law on Communications (OLC). Article 18 defines “prior restraint” as “not publishing information of public importance or in the interest of the public” — a provision that is interpreted by SUPERCOM to punish private media for not publishing what the government considers as relevant news. In this case, the outlets were fined despite the fact that several state-owned outlets widely reported on the Argentine newspaper Página 12 article accusing Lasso. On April 21, president-elect Lenin Moreno publicly asked SUPERCOM to lift all sanctions imposed against the seven media outlets.

“Despite being Correa's successor, Lenin Moreno has a golden opportunity to change things with the stroke of a pen and restore a fully democratic system in Ecuador — one where the press and the political opposition are not constantly persecuted by the government,” said Halvorssen.

“However, this cannot be achieved through tweets and statements asking pro-Correa judges for ‘tolerance.’ The first step in the democratization of Ecuador must be the repeal of the draconian Organic Law on Communications, which imposes sanctions on media outlets who do not act as a mouthpiece for the government. Furthermore, Moreno must provide guarantees of independence to the judiciary and radically change the authoritarian guidelines of SUPERCOM and other government agencies that have so far acted as enforcers of the Correa regime.”

“If he fails to do this, Moreno will miss the opportunity to go down in history as a democrat, and, on the contrary, he will be seen as Correa's authoritarian clone,” said Halvorssen.

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.

See this release in Spanish here.

Contact: Prachi Vidwans, (212) 246-8486, prachi@hrf.org.

Take Action

Call on President-elect Lenin Moreno to repeal outgoing President Rafael Correa’s authoritarian Organic Law on Communications.

Tweet:

In English: “I support @HRF’s call for @Lenin to repeal @MashiRafael’s authoritarian Communication Law and govern democratically: https://www.hrf.org/single-post/2017/04/26/HRF-to-Ecuador-Repeal-Draconian-Communications-Law-End-Persecution-of-the-Press”

In Spanish: “Apoyo el pedido de @HRF_es para que @Lenin derogue la autoritaria Ley Orgánica de Comunicación de @MashiRafael. Ver https://media.wix.com/ugd/4a3a56_9dc54a5d54e34bb2944d2e01fbc17903.pdf”

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