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As it backs Assange, Ecuador stifles expression at home

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa holds the hands of Christine Assange, the mother of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, during a meeting in Quito, Ecuador, Aug. 1. (AP/Martin Jaramillo)

The Quito government's decision to grant Julian Assange political asylum comes at a time when freedom of expression is under siege in Ecuador. President Rafael Correa's press freedom record is among the very worst in the Americas, and providing asylum to the WikiLeaks founder won't change the repressive conditions facing Ecuadoran journalists who want to report critically about government policies and practices.

Research by numerous international human rights defenders--including CPJ, Human Rights Watch, the Ecuadoran press group Fundamedios, and the Organization of American States' special rapporteur for freedom of expression--has concluded that the Correa administration does not brook dissent and is engaged in a campaign to silence its critics in the media. 

Take, for example, the recent shutdown of 11 local radio stations. CPJ's review of the closures found that a majority of the stations had been critical of the government and that regulators did not follow due process in many instances. In a letter to Director of Telecommunications Fabián Jaramillo, we expressed concern that the closures were a politicized effort to control the flow of information.

A 2011 CPJ special report found that Correa and his administration had a record of filing defamation lawsuits in civil and criminal courts as a means of intimidating critics. A case against the leading newspaper El Universo was emblematic of the practice. In February, Correa won a libel suit against the paper. Three directors and former opinion editor Emilio Palacio were sentenced to three years each in prison and a total of US$40 million in damages. Correa's complaint stemmed from a February 2011 opinion column that suggested the president could be charged with crimes against humanity for his actions during a violent police uprising in 2010. Correa later pardoned the journalists--after having accomplished his goal of intimidating anyone who might challenge his policies. (It was too late for Palacio, who fled the country for fear of imprisonment.)

Legislation has also been passed to target critics in the media. Changes to the electoral law, passed by the National Assembly in January, included broadly worded provisions that will hamper press coverage of political campaigns ahead of the February 2013 presidential vote, when Correa will seek re-election. One provision states that the media "must abstain from promoting directly or indirectly" the campaigns of political candidates during the 90 days leading up to an election. Another prohibits media from publishing or transmitting any type of information, photos, or opinions about the electoral process during the 48 hours leading up to the election. A communications bill now under consideration in the National Assembly could further restrict free expression; its ambiguous language would give regulators wide discretion to impose arbitrary sanctions and censor the press.

Following in the footsteps of Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chávez, Correa has also built a muscular state media network that is used to launch smear campaigns against critics and to advance his narrow political agenda, CPJ research shows.  

It is ironic that the same government that has granted asylum to Assange has driven El Universo's Palacio into exile in the United States and is now using state media to smear César Ricaurte, head of Fundamedios and a leading defender of free expression.

The international community is not fooled. During the U.N. Universal Periodic Review in May, 17 member states drafted numerous recommendations to bolster the sad state of free expression in Ecuador. The government responded as it does to any reproach: with disdain. Foreign Affairs Minister Ricardo Patiño said "ignorance" was behind the international criticism.

But as Ecuador provides support to Assange--an assertive if controversial force in promoting the free flow of information--it would do well to start listening to its critics, domestic, and international, and unstop the flow of information right at home.

August 16, 2012 5:25 PM ET | | Comments (21) | Also in Español

Comments

The (rogue) nation State of Australia, sells its citizens: it doesn't protect them. Julian Assange is well aware of this.

Here is an example:
www.expendable.tv

That woman is wholly innocent. The Australian government's own cables, also published on that website, prove it. They knew it from the start, but it was expedient to the political interests of Australia to sacrifice her life. The Australian media did the rest. Also documented on that website.

Little wonder that Julian Assange has zero faith in his own government.

Ecuador might back Assange, but how will he make it out of the UK? Do they think he will simply be magically moved outside the country?

Globo Television just reported that the "CPJ criticized the Ecuadorian Government for granting asylum to Assange".

Is this true? It´s an official position of the CPJ to be against the act of the Ecuadorian Government of granting asylum to Assange?

Attack the Ecuador government is the only weapon? Most of the journalism manners nowadays are sad all around the world because they serve to private interests and no to inform the people.
Even worse the journalist and media that in Ecuador have differences with the government just attack the President without real information and just provide wrong and mal intentioned opinions. They have been judged by the law and they have lost, that is the state of law.
To assure free flow of information it is necessary to cut the media monopoly and respect the truth beyond few journalist opinions. We want true information as well as to respect human rights, that is the reason because Ecuador provide asylum to J. Assange.

It does not matter what happened in Quito or anywhere the hypocrisy is the media since turn blind eye to many repression of human right and journalism rampant in other places. You should keep your bloody mouth shut if you have nothing to publish.

@fernando. Read the post. It says nothing about whether correa should give assange asylum. It says correa should respect the people's right to information. What do you say about that?

I see from these comments that the government has unleashed its mouthpieces to distract, distort and smear. Tell me, fellow commenters, why the president cares about Assange's right to free expression but denies us our own human rights?

This article has little to do with freedom of press but is a great example of propaganda.
It's wonderful to see so many intelligent commentators here that will take the time to express the truth.
Ricardo, it's clear that you are not Ecuadorian and that you have your own agenda.
Ecuador, watch your back. I hope that you have support from your neighbors because you have slapped the face of the global dictators.

SJ: Your comment exemplifies the Correa government's approach, which is to personally attack anyone that dares to question or criticize.

This article does not need to resort to propaganda because it relies on the government's own actions as factual evidence: laws that silence citizens, criminal prosecutions to intimidate critics, state media misused to wage Correa's personal agenda.

You have made assertions, SJ, but you have no facts to back them up.

I cringe to the idea that people could see President Correa's decision on Asssange and what happened to Palacios as examples of his supposed hypocrisy. Palacios, as people before him that have controlled and manipulated their part of the media to brain wash the masses, flagrantly lied! THAT is a fact.
There are no laws that silence citizens (unlike in the US), nor do prosecutors that intimidate critics (only alleged and accused criminals or liars… pick your choice). Ecuador has chosen a method other countries governments are too coward to approach because their vested interests. How else do you engage the people in this day and age to be part of the revolution? You have to be closely involved in the media that informs the people… but allow the people to choose what they want to do.
May be, there's a lesson for the world in what happened to el universo. Many are the instances where the media make allegations and spew lies and no one (no government, no authority, and no person) holds them responsible for their venomous malice.
What happens when the truth comes out (wikitruth)… ?
This is not a matter of interpretation. Many of us choose to look away … but some of us are always paying attention.

This article is rather one-sided. It provides little analysis of the political economy of press freedom in Ecuador, where ownership of TV, radio, and the three leading newspapers is concentrated in the hands of the conservative elite that is Correa's avowed enemy, and where standards of press conduct are miserably low. Compared with previous Presidents, Correa's been a breathe of fresh air -- even on press freedom. The new laws with respect to campaign coverage during the 90 days prior to the election are hardly unusual in Latin America -- take a look at Brazil, for example.

Your article tries to make it sound as if Correa, a US educated economist with a Phd from the Univ of Illinois, is some kind of Fidelista. In fact he's performed rather well, although he's taken positions that the US doesn't care for, on debt relief, the prosecution of the $19b pollution case against Chevron, and now the Assange matter. And the economy is growing nicely -- last year, at 8%; this year, at least 5%. Compared to his most likely political opponent, the tax-evading banana magnate Noboa, Correa is very popular. Ergo his ability to take on the US over the Assange matter.

Rather than support Correa's decision in the Assange matter, which is a net plus for critical journalism, you've decided for whatever reason to go along with the mainstream meme now also being replayed at establishment outlets like Foreign Policy Magazine: "Ecuador is hypocritical." You're not defending journalists' rights here; you are defending the suppression of the free flow of information. In the service of...our Fake Empire.

In fact it is the Obama Administration that is the world champion hypocrite here -- cracking down on whistle-blowers at an unprecedented rate, supporting police surveillance and mass arrests of peaceful protestors who've been trying to exercise free speech all over the country, and relentlessly pursuing Bradley Manning and Julius Assange to the ends of the earth. "Committee to Protect...Journalists?"

Jaime: "This is not a matter of interpretation." Really? No one can disagree with Correa's positions or those of his backers?

Correa, using his people's taxes, controls one of the region's biggest state media operations and uses to it to libel his critics. He calls them liars and scum. Yet he (and mouthpicees like you) say he is not accountable for his words or actions.

"There are no laws that silence citizens." Really? The electoral law says Ecuador's own citizens "must abstain from promoting directly or indirectly" political candidates for three months before an election. What kind of democractic election is it when the people are silenced??

So who is not telling the truth, Jaime?

The mouthpieces commenting here continue to distract from the real issue, and libel anyone who asks challenges Correa. No doubt some of these supposed "citizens" are actually the Washington lobbyists on which Correa lavishes his people's money in order to perpetuate his personal power.

Can any of Correa's apologists cite facts? Or is your "argument" based on name-calling and falsehoods?



@James: The dozen community radio stations that Correa shut down were not part any "media elite." They were small operators crushed by the government because they did not fall in line. You're distorting the facts.

Mr Henry: CPJ agrees the Obama administration should not prosecute Assange and it has spoken out against it: http://cpj.org/2010/12/cpj-urges-us-not-to-prosecute-assange.php
Bill Sweeney/CPJ Editorial Director

I suppose a committee that purports to protect journalists should at least respect basic standards of journalism?

1. How does the line "following in the footsteps of Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chávez" help and support your claim that the government in Ecuador is suppressing press freedom? It sounds more like the kind of ideological short-hand US foreign policymakers will say. It also makes CPJ vulnerable to being regarded as displaying the same kind of hypocrisy it is criticizing here.

2. "The international community is not fooled." Always convenient, calling the US/Western European side the "international community" when in need to bringing down some imagine 'global' judgment against another country that isn't in North America or Western Europe. So, what does the "international community" have to say, for example about the UK's behavior in the Ecuadorian embassy stand-off? Nothing I guess since the US and Canada have opposed everyone else in the OAS. It would have been easier to say X countries in the UN Human Rights Council criticized Ecuador. But not, it is always easier to hide the ideological motivation behind UN HRC debates by invoking the awesome, omnipotent "international community"

3. Your refer to a "narrow political agenda" as the motivation for these policies you criticize. How broad should the political agenda of anyone -- the US government, the president of Fiji, the mayor of Buenos Aires - be so it won't be so "narrow" that someone in CPJ thinks - oh, this is not as broad as the US government's policy of intimidating whistleblowers, for example? In my opinion, the problem is CPJ wanting, on one hand, to protect journalists where their profession is at risk, but pretending on the other, that those risks are unrelated to ideological and foreign policy tensions where the 'sides' aren't only, for example, Correa and his local critics, but involve US security interests as an even larger side with, arguably, an equally narrow political agenda.

You are a disappointment, when you could have been more nuanced and balanced.

The hypocrisy of some of these commenters is surpassed only by the hypocrisy of Correa and his government.

Proclaim you defend free expression -- but silence your own citizens.

Try to make the argument about the US or the UK or the UN -- when it comes down to Correa's *own* record of shutting radios, prosecuting journalists, and passing laws to restrict speech.

Because Correa's apologists don't have a real defense, they change the subject, distort the facts, and attack the messenger.

US abused and manipulated human rights and condemned others who exercise their rights. This is a clear violated universal human rights!

Congratulations to CPJ for exposing the Correa government's appalling record on free expression and for standing up to the apologists who excuse suppression of opinion if it is being done by leftist leaders. The president uses state media to personally attack his critics--there is no more narrow personal agenda than that. Watch Ecuadoran state media and judge for yourself.

Sure... and when the United States protects people, China and Russia point out the hypocrisy of people running to the US when they have repeatedly stifled human rights and done things that World Court and public opinion have deemed unacceptable... and they are perfectly justified in saying that. If we are to be a real democracy, we need to hear that argument, so that we can correct our government. The problem is that our press has no balls... from the inception of our country, thr free press was seen as the truest defender of our values... but most of our press has become a gang of timid mice, with styled hair and designer clothes, trying to get ahead... with the exception of a few venues, they are scripted by timid frustrated writers who want nothing more than to make the next edition. That's not what a reporter should be. A reporter was meant to be a proud profession of people who seek the truth... seek to challenge and protect the Republic. It is up to you to point out the hypocrisy of the US government, which seeks to silence a free press, and has driven Assange to seek protection from another government (which ALSO curbs the free press) rather slamming your more heroic brethren for making a tactical retreat which you didn't have the balls to make! SHAME ON YOU!!!!

Oh, I get it. You pretend to be a free-press organization, but really you're a right wing front group. Clever!

Thanks to CPJ for calling attention over the past few years to President Correa's terrible record on free expression. Beyond his libel suits and vitriolic attacks on journalists, he's erected a legal structure to quash dissent and a citizen-funded media network that he treats as his personal megaphone. The US should not go after Assange--and, at the moment, there's not much evidence it will. But Ecuador's asylum decision is not about Assange or defending free expression. It's a cynical political calculation.


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