A manila envelope with a threatening message and explosive USB stick is seen after being mailed to Ecuadorian broadcaster TC Television. Similar packages were mailed to at least four other journalists. (Photo: TC Television)

Bombs mailed to at least 5 journalists in Ecuador

Bogotá, March 22, 2023 – Ecuadorian authorities must thoroughly investigate letter bombs sent to five TV and radio journalists, guarantee their safety, and bring those responsible to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.

Since March 16, letter bombs have been sent to the TV stations Ecuavisa, Teleamazonas, and TC Television; the radio station EXA FM; and to one independent news commentator, according to multiple news reports and journalists who spoke with CPJ. One journalist sustained slight injuries after one of the devices exploded.

In each case, journalists received couriered manila envelopes containing USB drives and threatening messages sent from the central town of Quinsaloma, Interior Minister Juan Zapata told reporters on Monday.

“Ecuadorian authorities must thoroughly investigate letter bombs recently sent to journalists throughout the country and bring those responsible to justice,” said Carlos Martínez de la Serna, CPJ´s program director, in New York. “It is crucial that these threats are taken seriously and authorities make reporters’ safety a priority.”

On March 16, in the city of Guayaquil, Ecuavisa journalist Lenin Artieda received a package containing a USB stick. When he inserted the drive into his computer, it exploded and slightly injured his face and one of his hands, according to those news reports and Fundamedios, a press freedom group based in Quito, the capital.

The following day, TC Television news host Mauricio Ayora, also in Guayaquil, received a similar package, station manager Rafael Cuesta told CPJ via messaging app.

Following anti-virus protocols, Ayora did not try to access the information on the USB drive and, after learning about the attack on Artieda, the station turned the device over to the police, who confirmed it contained an explosive.

Identical packages were also sent to Teleamazonas journalist Milton Pérez and EXA FM journalist Miguel Rivadeneira, both in Quito, who handed them over to police, according to those news reports.

A fifth package, addressed to independent news commentator Carlos Vera, was intercepted by authorities before it reached him, those reports said.

Cuesta told CPJ that Ayora had received threats over his reporting on drug trafficking groups and prison riots in 2021, but doubted the bombs were related to that work. He said the packages contained messages that were confusing and did not have a clear specific motive.

“This is an absolutely clear effort to muzzle journalists who have been aggressive in their coverage or to muzzle the media,” said Zapata, adding that police were investigating the bombs. The attorney general’s office said in a statement Monday that it had also opened an investigation.

In a statement Monday, Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso said that his government “categorically rejects any kind of violent acts against journalists.”