After two weeks of uncertainty, on Friday September 25, the National Communications Secretariat (SECOM) announced that the dissolution process it had initiated against the Andean Foundation for Media Observation & Study (FUNDAMEDIOS) will be archived. For now, FUNDAMEDIOS, the only entity defending freedom of expression in Ecuador, will remain operational. However, the resolution comes with a new warning.
|Este texto toma parte del artículo “Prensa ecuatoriana: acoso y resistencia”:
In its final part, SECOM’s statement says: “(…) taking into account the request of the Public Defender of Ecuador, the Secretariat has decided to archive the administrative dissolution procedure initiated against FUNDAMEDIOS, under a final warning to this social organization that it respects its statutes, including the prohibition of undertaking matters of a political nature, avoiding raising unfounded alerts for the sole purpose of affecting the prestige of Ecuador and its institutions, as well as making transparent its sources of financing and the utilization of these resources when this authority so requires”.
The Ecuadorian Government began targeting FUNDAMEDIOS in 2011, after the NGO appeared at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CIDH) to report on the aggravated situation of freedom of expression in Ecuador. In response, the Government launched a million dollar campaign against the NGO, as well as persecuting it administratively with the aim of closing it down. On June 24, 2015, SECOM delivered a new warning to FUNDAMEDIOS, threatening the NGO with dissolution and ordering it to stop issuing alerts about attacks on freedom of expression. The threat became a reality on September 8, 2015, when SECOM announced that the dissolution process had begun.
International pressure and public opinion, which overwhelmingly favored FUNDAMEDIOS, were key factors in the archiving of the dissolution proceedings. The initial announcement of the dissolution sparked many demonstrations of solidarity and protest from international organizations, journalists’ associations and human rights groups from around the world. Academics, journalists and citizens of different nationalities added their support through various means.
The day after the submission deadline for exculpatory evidence (September 17), the Director of FUNDAMEDIOS, César Ricaurte, and his lawyers visited SECOM for the second time, accompanied by Moisés Sánchez, Executive Secretary of the Regional Alliance for Free Expression & information, to present a petition of signatures in support of FUNDAMEDIOS, along with other documents they requested to be added to the file.
Among these were 45 communications from international civil society groups, as well as a statement from five special rapporteurs on human rights; three from the United Nations (UN) and two from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH). This statement, which was published simultaneously in Geneva and Washington DC, was signed by Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association; David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Michael Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez, CIDH Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders; and Edison Lanza, CIDH Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.
Referring to FUNDAMEDIOS, the rapporteurs stated that, “members of associations, particularly those dedicated to defending human rights, should enjoy the full right to freedom of expression and in particular, the freedom to be openly critical of government policies and practices”. They went on, “People who form an association have the right to hold opinions and share information of all kinds, including political information, without interference from the State”, and argued that “speech cannot be suppressed simply because it could be interpreted as is ‘political'”.
For the rapporteurs, “the forced dissolution of an association is a truly extreme measure that can be justified only in the most exceptional cases, under strict compliance with the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality, and with the aim of achieving a pressing need in a democratic society”.
Regarding the controversial Decree 16, the rapporteurs commented that “Executive Decree No. 16 establishes unacceptable restrictions on freedom of expression and association in the country, granting powers to State authorities to close organizations based on very broad and ambiguous terms”, adding that, “It would be of particular concern if the State adopts any resolution which violates international standards of human rights in this case. In fact, it’s the Government’s actions which have the stronger ‘political overtones’”. The rapporteurs noted that “the main reason cited for the dissolution of FUNDAMEDIOS could be used to obstruct the legitimate exercise of freedom of association”.
The statement continued: “We urge the Ecuadorian authorities to stop the dissolution process of FUNDAMEDIOS and, in general, to ensure the realization of the rights to freedom of expression and association in the country,” and concluded, “We are ready to provide technical assistance to theauthorities in this matter”.
FUNDAMEDIOS reported that “among the submitted documents are signatures of support from 99 leading academics and journalists, in addition to the names of 1419 people of various nationalities who have signed the petition in defense of the NGO on the website Change.org. Sánchez also submitted a statement from the Regional Alliance, which brings together 22 organizations from 18 countries across the continent”.
Moisés Sánchez, a representative of the Regional Alliance for Free Expression & Information, which unites 22 organizations similar to FUNDAMEDIOS from 18 countries, urged the Government to grant the rapporteurs’ request to come to Ecuador and investigate the situation of freedom of expression. For Sánchez, the issuance of a joint statement from five rapporteurs is a historic event, unprecedented in the recent history of the continent. The statement is, according to him, a sign of the real concern felt among regional and global organizations regarding Ecuador’s situation. On behalf of these organizations, Sánchez asked the Government to rescind the dissolution process against
FUNDAMEDIOS “for failing to guarantee due process and the lack of a fair trial, with SECOM acting as judge and jury, in violation of Articles 8 and 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights”. If the Government closes FUNDAMEDIOS, Sánchez said, it would become an emblematic case of censorship. “It’s extremely serious and a step backwards for the entire region. The rapporteurs have taken this action against FUNDAMEDIOS as a very bad sign for all the Americas”.
Regarding the evidence that FUNDAMEDIOS requested, the NGO reported that “the National Electoral Council (CNE) issued a memorandum stating that FUNDAMEDIOS has not registered in the Permanent National Registry of Political Organizations. The CNE affirmed that the request invokes a legal provision which applies “only to the functioning of political parties and movements”.
Meanwhile, the Ombudsman’s office announced via Twitter that the Public Defender, Ramiro Rivadeneira, had urged the Secretary of Communication, Fernando Alvarado, not to dissolve FUNDAMEDIOS.
A strong statement from Quito
On September 15, the directors of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), which represents over 1200 news and media outlets in the Americas, arrived in the Ecuadorian capital for the Quito Forum for Freedom of Expression. As the Forum’s attendees, guests and organizers entered the Eugenio Espejo Cultural Center, a group of 50 anti-IAPA protesters, claiming to be journalism students and journalists dismissed from the media, shouted slogans, accompanied by drums and trumpets. At 12 noon, the protesters were removed from the venue. Meanwhile, in the auditorium, various panels analyzed the situation of press freedom in Ecuador, with three recent high profile cases as examples: FUNDAMEDIOS; the newspaper La Hora; and Martin Pallares, the recently fired editor of the newspaper El Comercio. The director of the latter publication was among the Forum’s attendees.
The key outcome for the Forum’s organizers (the Ecuadorian Association of Newspaper Editors; the Simón Bolívar Andean University and FUNDAMEDIOS) and the IAPA directors was the signing of the Declaration of Quito, a document also known as the Quito Forum Action Plan. According to the Forum’s organizers, the document goes beyond making recurrent diagnoses on freedom of speech and press, to set out a clear action plan for intervening in the political decisions of regional bodies that deal primarily with the situation in Ecuador.
The text of the Declaration of Quito, including specific actions, states:
“1. RAPPORTEURS ON FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION, ASSOCIATION AND HUMAN RIGHTS.- The organizations attending the QUITO FORUM FOR FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION seek a declaration from the universal and regional organizations of freedom of expression, association and human rights regarding the Ecuadorian Government’s intention to dissolve the Andean Foundation for Media Observation & Study (FUNDAMEDIOS).
2. SECRETARY GENERAL OAS.- The organizations present at the QUITO FORUM FOR FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION decide to form an international commission to visit the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, with the purpose of informing him of the Ecuadorian Government’s serious violations of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
3. MULTILATERAL BODIES.- The organizations present at the QUITO FORUM FOR FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION decide to form an international commission to visit the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank and the Andean Development Corporation, among others, to inform them of the situation regarding human rights and press freedom in Ecuador, so that they may take this information into consideration when granting assistance to the country.
4. SEIZED MEDIA.- Remind the Ecuadorian Government of its promise to re-privatize the media outlets which have been seized by the State.
5. INTERNATIONAL ENTERPRISES.- The organizations present at the QUITO FORUM FOR FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION decide to provide detailed information to investing companies regarding the conditions of freedom of expression and other fundamental rights which lead to limitations on legal security for their activities.
8. DUE PROCESS.- The organizations present at the QUITO FORUM FOR FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION resolve to open paths of communication to the President of the Republic of Ecuador, economist Rafael Correa, urging his Government to suspend the actions of the Superintendent of Communication against the media, and denouncing the repressive and undemocratic nature of the Superintendency to the UN and OAS human rights organizations. Also they call for their Government to guarantee due process for the media and journalists and the full right of defense in administrative actions that are set in motion as a result of the implementation of the Organic Communications Law.
9. GUARANTEES FOR JOURNALISTS.- The organizations present at the QUITO FORUM FOR FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION resolve to urge the President of Ecuador, economist Rafael Correa, that his Government takes the path of tolerance and guarantees the right of journalists to exercise critical, investigative and independent journalism, without facing verbal and physical attacks, without fear of losing their jobs, without encountering legal and/or administrative action against them.
10. RIGHT TO ASSOCIATION.- The organizations attending the QUITO FORUM FOR FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION resolve to urge the President of Ecuador, economist Rafael Correa, that his Government takes the path of tolerance and guarantees the right of association to its citizens and, in consequence, rescinds the action taken by the Ministry of Communication (SECOM) to remove the legal status of the Andean Foundation for Media Observation and Study, FUNDAMEDIOS, and to fully guarantee its work of registering the restrictions and violations against fundamental freedoms in Ecuador.
11. ARCHIVE OF AMENDMENT.- The organizations attending the QUITO FORUM FOR FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION request the archiving of the constitutional amendment, discussed by the National Assembly, which aims to identify communication as a public service at the constitutional level.
12. ECUADOR NEWS.- The organizations present at the QUITO FORUM FOR FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION resolve to recommend the continent’s media to create journalistic bodies to keep audiences constantly informed about news from Ecuador which relates to restrictions on freedoms of speech and press, as well as the right to association and right to resistance, as established in the 2008 Constitution, which remains in force.
13. ECUADOR RECORD.- The organizations present at the QUITO FORUM FOR FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION resolve to keep on their work agendas an updated record of restrictions on freedom of expression and press freedom in Ecuador, as well as the rights of association and resistance; ask FUNDAMEDIOS to continue to provide information based on its monitoring; and call on the international community to support its work.
14. ECUADOR DEBATE.- The organizations present at the QUITO FORUM FOR FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION resolve to bring up for discussion the situation of freedom of expression and press in Ecuador at every one of the meetings, conferences, assemblies, forums and talks that they attend. In particular, they suggest that IFEX and IAPA open spaces of discussion on the restrictive nature of the Communications Law at their future assemblies. Also they urge the CIDH Commission on Human Rights to continue to convene thematic hearings on freedom of expression in Ecuador and, in particular, on the implementation of the Organic Communications Law.
15. CHAPULTEPEC PROFESSORSHIP.- The organizations present at the QUITO FORUM FOR FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION resolve to recommend that Ecuadorian universities create a Chapultepec professorship, so that Ecuadorian professionals in their training internalize the principles and values that underpin freedom of expression, as established in the 1994 Declaration of Chapultepec, as a substantial part of their civic culture, regardless of professional specialization. And also recommend that Faculties and Schools of Law train lawyers who are expert in human rights and inter-American human rights law, as established in declarations, covenants and treaties, as well as the jurisprudence emanating from the decisions of the Inter-American Court of Human rights and other similar agencies and courts. The Inter American Press Association (IAPA), the Ecuadorian Association of Newspaper Editors (AEDEP) and regional press associations will support the realization of this proposal.