Six Ecuadorian journalists harassed for involvement in Panama Papers

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tuits_correaSince President Rafael Correa tweeted the names, media outlets and social media accounts of the six Ecuadorian journalists involved in the Panama Papers investigation, the reporters have been attacked, insulted and threatened. The President also urged his supporters to send messages to the journalists, “demanding ALL the truth from them.”

The President also referred to the massive leak of documents by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), writing on Twitter: “They spent almost a year looking for something against the Ecuadorian Government and found nothing. Now it’s up to citizens: we demand ALL the information. The “selective” fight against corruption is just … more corruption!”

Correa’s tweets were reposted by ruling party officials including Patricio Barriga, former President of the Council for the Regulation & Development of Information & Communication (Cordicom) and current head of the Communication Secretariat (Secom) at Carondelet Palace.

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Photo: El Universo.

Photo: El Universo.

However, as reported in the daily newspaper El Comercio, reactions against journalists and media outlets have transcended social networks. On Wednesday April 13, about 20 people gathered outside the offices of El Comercio to protest, holding banners demanding the journalists “disclose everything”. The same happened at the Quito offices of another newspaper, El Universo, where 17 people arrived at midday to “demand the truth” from the editorial staff and discredit the two newspapers.

Journalists involved in the global ICIJ investigation had already been pressured days before. On April 6, 2016, the President of the Council of Citizen Participation & Social Control (CPCCS), Yolanda Gonzalez, announced at a press conference that five journalists had been identified for their part in the Panama Papers investigation.  Gonzalez demanded that the journalists hand over the information in their possession so that the Government could initiate its own inquiries.

The CPCCS request was made official on April 13 in a letter to the six journalists from private media outlets who participated in the ICIJ project and the director of the State newspaper El Telegrafo (which was not part of the global investigation but published an article on the subject). The letter summoned the recipients to a meeting with the CPCCS on April 19 to hand over all information from the investigation that pertains to Ecuador.

The Justice Commission of the National Assembly, via a press release, also invited the journalists to a meeting. Ruling party official Mauro Andino, President of the Commission, stated that, although the journalists are not legally required to attend, “it is a moral obligation they have with the country.”

In an interview with El Universo, Marina Walker, Deputy Director of the ICIJ, said that “the State is confusing things because Ecuadorian journalists and those around the world do not have in their possession or own any of the documents. They are invited to participate via platforms controlled by the ICIJ. The documents belong to the ICIJ and the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung and any request from a government has to be channeled through the ICIJ. They’re asking the wrong person. The ICJ has a policy not to provide documentation to governments, we are not a government agency and they have to use their own mechanisms to investigate.”

The Andean Foundation for Media Observation & Study (Fundamedios), meanwhile, condemned “these actions that evidence harassment and stigmatization by the ruling party. Revealing the names of the journalists involved in the investigation exposes them to greater vulnerability that could have dire consequences, both for the wellbeing of the journalists and for freedom of expression.”

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