Bogota, September 22, 2021 — Ecuadorian authorities should return all equipment confiscated from journalist Fausto Chimbolema and disclose the reason for the recent raid on his office, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On September 14, police officers and agents from the local attorney general’s office raided Chimbolema’s office in the central Ecuadorian town of Tena and confiscated his laptop, memory cards, and mobile phone, according to the journalist, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app, and a statement by the Ecuadorian free press organization Fundamedios.
Chimbolema runs the Facebook-based local news outlet La Voz TV Online, which has about 17,000 followers.
He said authorities did not tell him why they raided his office, but it was likely linked to his publication of a September 9 article about raids by police and the attorney general’s office of five properties in Tena as part of a bank fraud investigation.
He said the report contained detailed information about the raids provided to him by an anonymous source, and that authorities may be retaliating against him for allegedly interfering in an ongoing investigation. In its statement, Fundamedios said that the attorney general’s office told them it was investigating a leak of classified information about an ongoing case.
“Ecuadorian authorities must disclose their justification for the seemingly arbitrary raid on journalist Fausto Chimbolema’s office, return all his confiscated equipment, and allow his outlet La Voz TV Online to resume work at once,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna, in New York. “Reporting on the work of public authorities is not a crime.”
Chimbolema told CPJ that he received a WhatsApp message after publishing the September 9 article ordering him to go to the attorney general’s office in Tena on September 20 to provide testimony.
When Chimbolema went to that office, public prosecutor Rocio Villareal, who took part in the raid on his office, declined to ask him any questions after the journalist said that his lawyer told him not to answer any, he said.
Chimbolema told CPJ that he posted his story about the raids after they were already completed, adding, “It was never my intention to interfere with the investigation.”
Chimbolema told CPJ that he founded La Voz TV Online last year to report on local news stories. He separately produces videos of weddings and birthday parties, but told CPJ that he can no longer perform that work or post stories to La Voz TV Online because his laptop and cell phone remain in official custody.
CPJ repeatedly called the local attorney general’s office in Tena, but no one answered. CPJ also emailed the press office of the national attorney general’s office in Quito, the capital, but did not receive any reply.