People wearing biological safety suits are seen in Quito, Ecuador, on April 3, 2020. Journalist Henry Córdova Correa was recently attacked over his coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Journalist in Ecuador attacked by relative with alleged ties to local government after critical COVID-19 coverage

On April 28, 2020, in Quinindé, Ecuador, journalist Henry Córdova Correa, who works as a news anchor for TV channel UNITV and also presents video news to his 2,942 followers on Facebook, was hit with bricks and a motorcycle helmet by a relative in retaliation for his reporting, sustaining a badly broken leg, the journalist told CPJ via phone, and according to a report in La Hora.

Córdova, whose reporting is often critical of local government officials, told CPJ he was out for a walk near his house in Quinindé, a northwestern town, with his wife when he spotted his two brothers-in-law, Jeffrey Vera Zambrano and Junior Vera Zambrano, a close associate of Quinindé Mayor Carlos Barcia Molina.  

Córdova told CPJ that Jeffrey Vera started screaming at him about a “video.” Córdova said he was not sure what Jeffrey Vera was referring to, but he believes it was one of his Facebook videos critical of the mayor. According to Córdova, Jeffrey Vera hit his wife with a broomstick, threw his motorcycle helmet at Córdova, and struck him in the head and right ankle with heavy bricks.

“I tried to protect myself but he kept throwing bricks and I ended up with a broken tibia and fibula,” Córdova told CPJ.

Córdova, 41, insisted that the attack, which he later described in a video posted to Facebook, was not the result of a family dispute. He said he believes it was in retaliation for his various recent news reports criticizing Quinindé officials for what he described as their inept and insufficiently rapid response to the coronavirus outbreak in the region.

The attack follows previous online abuse from one of the brothers-in-law, Córdova told CPJ. He said that Junior Vera has threatened and insulted him and his wife on social media multiple times over the past year due to his critical reporting on the mayor. 

Córdova said he filed complaints with the local police and a local branch of the national attorney general’s office about the April 28 attack but no one has been arrested for it.

CPJ’s calls to the local police, the local branch of the attorney general’s office, and the Quinindé mayor’s office were not immediately returned. CPJ was unable to obtain contact information for Junior or Jeffrey Vera.

Córdova told CPJ he was initially treated at a hospital in the nearby city of Esmeraldas. But doctors there were unable to perform the complicated operation to heal his leg so he was transferred to a hospital in Quito, the capital, where he underwent surgery, he said.

He said he is now staying with relatives in Quito and continues to present the news and conduct interviews in videos posted to his Facebook page. He told CPJ that it could take six to eight months to fully recover from his injury.