Attacks on freedom of expression in Ecuador increase due to the application of the communications law, according to report

The main attacks on freedom of expression in Ecuador during 2016 were a result of the application of the controversial Organic Law of Communication, in force since 2013, according to the 2016 report from freedom of expression organization Fundamedios.

In total, the annual report from the Ecuadoran organization recorded 480 attacks on freedom of expression from Jan. 1 to Dec. 20, 2016. However, in terms of physical, verbal and legal aggressions, among others, 2015 is still the most violent year in that regard, according to Fundamedios, which recorded 499 attacks.

According to Fundamedios, the Organic Law of Communication has promoted, since its inception, a series of sanctions and attacks on the media and its workers. According to the report, with 168 cases in 2016, the media live “cornered for fear of more economic sanctions” that compromise stability and permanence.

Previously, at the end of last year, the Special Rapporteurs for Freedom of Expression of the UN and the IACHR, David Kaye and Edison Lanza, respectively, jointly expressed their concern for the first time concerning the communications law.

“It is concerning that certain obligations established in the Act are not precisely defined by law, and their application, together with the severe punishments for failure to comply, gravely inhibit freedom of expression and opinion in Ecuador,” they said at the time.

They also emphasized that its application has been a way of intervening improperly in media content, especially when it is unfavorable to the government.

In second place are attacks against digital rights, which increased by 123 percent with respect to 2015, with 89 cases. Between May and June “the digital onslaught occurred,” according to the report, with massive complaints on Twitter and Facebook accounts for “alleged copyright infringement.”

The journalistic sites Focus Ecuador, 4Pelagatos and Plan V were also taken down after complaints of alleged copyright infringement by the National Communications Secretariat (Secom for its initials in Spanish). The entity sanctioned them for publishing photographs of the president and other officials at public activities, even though it was for informative purposes, according to Fundamedios.

In third place, the report finds abusive use of state power against freedom of expression.

In another category of the report, Fundamedios concluded that the State and public officials are the biggest aggressors. Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa was singled out as the main aggressor because of the disqualifications he made during his Enlace Ciudadano program on Saturdays.

With respect to physical attacks and criminal proceedings, there were 19 attacks on the physical integrity of journalists; 6 cases of bullying; 5 impediments to coverage and one case of destruction or confiscation of media work equipment outside headquarters.

According to the document, there is a policy of harassment in the country against the exercise of freedom of expression, the press and media workers.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.