Former Ecuadorian President Abdala Bucaram speaks while on house arrest in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on September 29, 2020. Bucaram recently threatened journalist Dayanna Monroy, and opened a criminal lawsuit over her coverage of his family. (AFP/Jose Sanchez Lindao)

Former Ecuadorian president threatens, files suit against journalist Dayanna Monroy

Bogotá, February 9, 2021 – Ecuadorian authorities must swiftly and thoroughly investigate threats made to journalist Dayanna Monroy, ensure she has adequate protection, and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On January 27, former Ecuadorian President Abdalá Bucaram Ortiz posted a video to his personal Facebook account in which he complained about Monroy’s coverage of alleged criminality involving himself and his family, and said, “What people have failed to ask is: ‘Wouldn’t it make more sense to kill her?’” The original video is no longer available on Bucaram’s Facebook page; a clip featuring the threat was posted to YouTube by the local news website Ecuador Comunicación.

Monroy, a reporter for privately owned broadcaster Teleamazonas TV, told CPJ via messaging app that she filed a complaint about the threat to the attorney general’s office, and is now under 24-hour police protection.

“All of this seems crazy but I have to take the threats seriously,” she said.

Separately, on February 1, Bucaram filed a criminal lawsuit accusing Monroy of publishing confidential information about his family, the journalist told CPJ, saying that she was supposed to present her testimony in that case yesterday, but was unable to attend the court session as she was covering the country’s presidential election, which took place on February 7.

If found guilty of disseminating confidential information, she could face one to three years in prison, according to Article 229 of Ecuador’s penal code. Monroy told CPJ that she did not know exactly what information she is alleged to have illegally disseminated.

“Ecuadorian authorities should thoroughly investigate the threats made to journalist Dayanna Monroy, ensure her safety, and see that those responsible face justice,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Authorities must send a clear message that threatening a journalist with death is an extremely serious matter, and that those threatening journalists are held accountable, regardless of who they are.”

In Bucaram’s Facebook video, he denied that he was involved in the January 27 shooting death of Ecuadorian TV host Efraín Ruales, and said he had more motive to kill Monroy, who “has for eight months harassed [us] with a lewd and immoral campaign via Teleamazonas … and defamed my family,” according to the clip reviewed by CPJ and a report by the Quito-based free expression organization Fundamedios.

Monroy told CPJ that she has been investigating Bucaram and his son, Jacobo, for more than three years. She said Teleamazonas has broadcast about 30 of her reports linking the family to alleged crimes, including a scheme to sell body bags and other health supplies to state hospitals at inflated prices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Abdalá Bucaram was elected president in 1996 but was removed from office six months later for “mental incapacity,” according to news reports from the time. He is under investigation by the attorney general’s office for alleged involvement in organized crime, according to reports.

Jacobo Bucaram was arrested in Colombia in September and is also under investigation for connections to organized crime and for his alleged involvement in the fraudulent sale of health supplies to state hospitals, according to news reports.

Alfredo Arboleda, a lawyer for the Bucaram family, told CPJ via messaging app that Monroy had “distorted” the truth, and denied that the former president had threatened her, saying his comments were taken out of context.

He provided a copy of Bucaram’s criminal lawsuit to CPJ; it accuses Monroy of broadcasting information about the family that was “premature” and “far from reality,” but does not say what that information was.

CPJ called the attorney general’s office for comment, but no one answered.

Abdalá and Jacobo Bucaram have a history of harassing journalists on social media and in the courts, according to César Ricaurte, the director of Fundamedios. He told CPJ via messaging app that, besides the video death threat, the Bucarams have posted numerous tweets calling Monroy a “scoundrel” and a “rat” and insulting other journalists who have investigated their family.

Last year, CPJ documented how Jacobo Bucaram threatened cartoonist Xavier Bonilla.