Critical Ecuadoran journalist charged with terrorism

New York, August 27, 2010–A government accusation that an Ecuadoran journalist “committed terrorism” is retaliation for his harsh criticism of local authorities, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On July 19, an unidentified individual tossed a tear gas canister to disperse a crowd during a visit of President Rafael Correa in the northern town of La Concordia, the Guayaquil-based newspaper El Universo reported. Gas reached the stage where Correa was standing, and the president covered his face with a mask. Juan Alcívar Ríos, a correspondent for the Quito-based daily La Hora and reporter for local radio El Nuevo Sol, was covering the presidential visit with a group of journalists.

On August 20, Judge Kléber Samaniego issued an arrest warrant for Alcívar, charging the reporter with “committing terrorism,” his lawyer, Eddie Morcillo, told CPJ. The warrant was issued after two employees for La Concordia’s town council said Alcívar had hurled the canister, according local news reports. After receiving repeated threats on his cell phone and fearing for his life, Alcívar has gone into hiding. Morcillo has appealed the judge’s order.

Alcívar is a harsh critic of La Concordia Mayor Walter Ocampo. The reporter said he believes the accusation is reprisal for his critical coverage, according to local press reports. Journalists in La Concordia, the Quito-based press group Fundamedios, and the president of La Hora, Francisco Vivanco, also consider the accusation retaliatory.  

The mayor told El Universo that he plans to file defamation charges against Alcívar for claiming he is somehow behind the terrorism charge.

Manuel Toro, a reporter for the daily El Universo who was also covering the event with Alcívar, told CPJ that the reporter did not throw the canister.

“The charges against Juan Alcívar Ríos are bogus,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “We call on the Ecuadoran authorities to drop this outrageous terrorism charge. We also ask that Alcívar’s family, which is receiving threats, be given police protection.”

Verónica Torres, the journalist’s wife, told CPJ that she and her children have received anonymous phone calls asking where Alcívar’s is since he went into hiding.

According to Fundamedios, unidentified individuals painted a note in July on Alcívar’s car that said: “Shut up, and stop screwing with the mayor.”