Journalism groups support freedom of expression rapporteur under fire in Ecuador

Warning of a "progressive loss of fundamental rights" in Ecuador, the Coordinating Committee of Press Freedom Organizations, during its half-yearly meeting Dec. 9 in Miami, issued a series of resolutions calling on the administration of President Rafael Correa to respect free speech and press freedom, and expressing solidarity with Catalina Botero, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, reported the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), one of the members of the Coordinating Committee. Other resolutions also addressed the killing of journalists and impunity in countries like Mexico and Colombia.

The Ecuador-related resolutions address issues related to decriminalizing defamation and lifting the criminal charges -- and accompanying sanctions such as fines and imprisonment -- levied against journalists. Further, the resolutions urge Correa and other government executives to respect the work and recommendations of Botero and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' (IACHR) Office of Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.

"Whereas there is a campaign of disinformation of the Ecuadorean government to damage the reputation and discredit persons and organizations that promote and defend human rights and freedom of expression in that country, the Coordinating Committee resolves...to call on President Correa and officials of his government to accept criticism and democratic debate with full respect for and tolerance of diversity of ideas and opinions," according to the resolution.

Correa has attempted to discredit Botero by accusing her of being biased in favor of the media organization Fundamedios -- a group critical of Correa's administration -- which Correa alleges has benefited from contracts with Botero for $8,000 to help with a website and two workshops, according to the government-owned El Telégrafo and the newspaper El Universo. Correa's critique alleges that IACHR regulations prohibit her from speaking up on Fundamedios' behalf because of the contractual relationship. Further, he claims that this relationship is why Botero has supported Fundamedios' accusations against the government for press freedom violations.

César Ricaurte, director of Fundamedios, said the accusations are just part of the government's campaign to discredit Botero and the IACHR, adding that the group's only relationship with Botero is an "academic" one, not a "commercial" one, reported the news agency AFP. Ricaurte also said the accusations were no surprise, considering that Fundamedios is "the only NGO in Ecuador working in defense and promotion of freedom of expression."

In October, Fundamedios appeared before the IACHR to denounce Ecuador's lack of press freedom and freedom of expression since Correa took office in 2007, explained EFE.

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