Bogotá, Colombia, September 9, 2015--Fundamedios, Ecuador's only independent press freedom organization, will likely be forced to close amid allegations by the government that it has transformed into a political organization critical of President Rafael Correa's administration, according to news reports.
"Not content with persecuting, harassing, fining, and verbally abusing critics in the privately owned press, the Ecuadoran government is now threatening to dissolve the leading press freedom organization," said CPJ Americas Senior Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría, from New York. "We urge Ecuadoran authorities to immediately withdraw this politically motivated procedure and allow Fundamedios to continue its work without any government interference."
In a 70-page document delivered to Fundamedios on September 8, the Secretary of Communications (Secom), a government body, said it had initiated a "process of dissolution" against the organization. It said Fundamedios must present its defense within 10 days. The government is basing its action against the press freedom group on a 2013 law that regulates non-governmental organizations and places restrictions on what such groups are allowed to do.
"Fundamedios has published messages, alerts and essays with indisputable political overtones that make clear the position of this social organization," Secom said in the document, which has been viewed by CPJ. In doing so, Secom said, Fundamedios had violated its own founding statutes that state the organization is to focus on communications and journalism.
As evidence, Secom singled out blogs by Ecuadoran journalists José Hernández and Roberto Aguilar that it claimed were critical of the government and which were published on several websites, including Fundamedios' website.
In a telephone interview with CPJ, César Ricaurte, the executive director of Fundamedios, denied the group had become a partisan political organization. He said Fundamedios has vigorously followed its mission to defend press freedom by supporting journalists amid a government campaign of harassment that has included lawsuits, fines, forced corrections, and verbal abuse from Correa.
He said that rather than starting an investigation of Fundamedios, the "dissolution" procedure means Secom has already concluded that the organization must disband. "We can come up with all kinds of evidence that we are not a political organization. But they will still close us," Ricaurte said.
In an e-mail to CPJ, Fernando Alvarado, who heads Secom, said he could not comment until the legal process against Fundamedios has concluded.
The Correa administration has gone after other non-governmental organizations. In 2013, his government shut down the environmental organization Fundación Pachamama, which had criticized Correa's decision to allow oil drilling in a national park in the Amazon rain forest, according to reports.
Quito-based Fundamedios, a Spanish acronym for the Andean Foundation for the Social Observation and Study of Media, was founded in 2007 to promote press freedom, denounce harassment and attacks against reporters, and carry out journalism workshops. Its activities are financed by donors including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). As of today, the group had registered 1,305 aggressions against press freedom in Ecuador since 2008, as well as 126 government sanctions against media outlets and journalists under a restrictive 2013 communications law.