Ecuador must return property seized from newsmagazine

New York, January 18, 2011–Ecuadoran authorities have been holding computers and equipment belonging to the critical newsmagazine Vanguardia since a police raid on its offices a month ago. The Committee to Protect Journalists has concluded the seizure was reprisal for the magazine’s editorial positions and calls on authorities to return the property.  

On December 17, armed members of the Ecuadoran special police force raided Vanguardia’s editorial offices in Quito, searched employees, and seized equipment, including 35 hard drives, Editor Juan Carlos Calderón told CPJ. Authorities said the action was taken as part of an eviction proceeding involving the state-owned offices.

An order issued by a government collection agency said Gran Tauro, Vanguardia’s publisher, had three days to pay US$14,560 that it allegedly owed in rent. But Calderón said the eviction was carried out immediately. The magazine paid the full amount it was said to owe by early January, but officials have not acknowledged receiving payment. 

Vanguardia and the local press group Fundamedios believe the seizure of assets was illegal and disproportionate. On December 21, at Vanguardia’s request, Guayas-based Judge Ángel Rubio ordered that Vanguardia employees be allowed to make back-up copies of their hard drives, which contained important reportorial information. But three attempts by staff to obtain copies of the hard drives have been unsuccessful, Calderón told CPJ. “We suspect that the government or some official is interested in our information,” he said. 

Calderón and Fundamedios believe the actions against Vanguardia stem from the magazine’s in-depth investigations of government corruption. Vanguardia has continued to publish from new offices.

“The confiscation of Vanguardia’s equipment appears intended to cripple a critical and independent media outlet,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “We urge authorities to return the magazine’s property and allow Vanguardia to work without obstruction.”