Former Ecuadorian congressman and journalist are declared innocent of disclosure of government information in Chevron case

Journalist and political activist Fernando Villavicencio and former congressman Cléver Jiménez, who were prosecuted criminally at the beginning of 2014 after being taken to court by then-Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa as a result of a journalistic investigation, were declared innocent on Feb. 22 by the Criminal Court of the National Court of Justice.

During the final trial, prosecutor Thania Moreno refrained from accusing them due to lack of evidence and the president of that Criminal Court, Judge Sylvia Sánchez, ruled in favor of the defendants, El Comercio reported.

It all started five years ago with the publication of the report "The Chevron File" on Oct. 3, 2013. In this investigation, Villavicencio cited Jiménez’ denunciations about the alleged interference of the Ecuadorian government in judicial operations during the litigation between that Andean country and the transnational oil company Chevron, according to Fundamedios.

In the report, the journalist cites as sources of his accusations some email messages exchanged between the then Attorney General of the State, Diego García, the legal secretary of the Presidency, Alexis Mera, and Correa.

For that reason they were denounced criminally for the crime of disclosure of classified information from the Presidency, for putting "in danger the security of the State", declared Correa, according to information published by El Telégrafo in 2014. At that time, Correa also accused them of illegal interception of documents of the Presidency, of "hacking" the email accounts of the Executive “for months.”

After the trial, Villavicencio and Jiménez declared before several media that they will initiate legal actions against Correa.

“Rafael Correa’s objective was to take the information that Cléver and I had, and now we're going to ask that they release that information,” Villavicencio said, referring specifically to information from 8,000 PDF files on the computer they took from his house during a judicial search, El Comercio reported. “I am going to initiate actions against all those who ordered the raid, I am referring to Rafael Correa, Alexis Mera, former judge Jorge Blum who authorized the raid, (...) and also against the judges who applied the monitor and precautionary measures, as has been proven, illegally," he said.

Jiménez told media outlets that they have not been able to "prove which confidential document we made public, we were accused simply because we had fought impressive corruption of the ex-government of Rafael Correa Delgado for ten years," El Comercio published.

Before both were formally prosecuted, Judge Jorge Blum ordered a raid of the homes of Villavicencio and of the offices of Jiménez on Dec. 27, 2013 in Quito, in which computers and hard disks were taken from the journalist and the former congressman.

For this trial, pretrial detention was ordered for Villavicencio and Jiménez on Oct. 2016, which neither of them complied with because they were out of the country due to the political persecution that both said they suffered from the Correa government, according to Fundamedios.

A writ of Habeas Corpus filed by lawyers for Villavicencio and Jimenez on Nov. 21, 2016 led to the revocation of their pretrial detention. In return, both were banned from leaving the country, having to appear weekly before a judge, according to El Universo.

A few weeks later, on Dec. 19, 2016, the then-legal secretary of the Presidency, Alexis Mera, appealed the Habeas Corpus presented by the defendants and which led to the Court of the National Court of Justice reordering the preventive detention, according to El Universo.

Months after, on July 12, 2017, the National Court of Justice changed the order for pretrial detention in exchange for electronic surveillance. With this measure, the journalist and former congressman were forced to wear monitors and to appear weekly before the court, El Comercio published.

However, on Aug. 7, 2017, the judge ratified the order for pretrial detention against Villavicencio for not being present for the placement of the monitor since he was out of the country in exile in Peru, IFEX reported.

On October 18, 2017, Villavicencio went to the Prosecutor's Office of Flagrancia and accepted the monitor under protest.

Due to the legal cases of disclosure of classified information belonging to the Presidency and an earlier case that also involves President Correa, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted precautionary measures in 2014 in favor of Villavicencio and Jiménez, which he ratified in 2016 and 2017.

These preventive measures requested by the IACHR to the government of Ecuador were never recognized by the Correa government. In this regard, the then-president said that said body did not have the powers to dictate them.

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.