On June 27, 2023, CPJ called on Ecuadorian authorities to investigate a series of death threats issued to journalist Lissette Ormaza. (Photo Credit: Lissette Ormaza)

Ecuadorian journalist run off road, threatened with death after critical reporting

Bogotá, June 27, 2023—Ecuadorian authorities must thoroughly investigate the recent death threats issued to journalist Lissette Ormaza and hold those responsible to account, Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday. 

On June 20, Ormaza, a reporter and newscaster for the privately owned broadcaster Majestad Televisión, was driving from her home in La Concordia to her outlet’s headquarters in the nearby northwestern city of Santo Domingo when a black SUV with no license plates swerved in front of her and forced her off the highway, according to news reports and the journalist, who communicated with CPJ by messaging app.

Ormaza lost control of her car, which went into a ditch and rolled on its side. She sustained minor injuries to her neck, chest, and legs in the accident.

On June 22, Ormaza received a message from a Facebook account she could not identify, saying: “Now you know what we are capable of. Your journalism does not scare us and the next time it won’t be an accident. It will be a bullet to the middle of your forehead.” 

Ormaza said these incidents followed her TV report—which has since been removed from the station’s website due to safety concerns—about brakes failing on an overloaded bus causing a May 28 accident that killed two passengers and injured dozens. Ormaza resigned from the TV station on Monday, June 26, and said she and her family want to flee Ecuador amid the threats.

“Ecuadorian authorities must thoroughly investigate the recent harassment of journalist Lissette Ormaza and ensure that those who threatened her life are held to account,” said Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director, in Quito. “At least two journalists have already fled Ecuador this year due to safety concerns. Authorities must use all resources at their disposal, including the country’s journalist protection mechanism, to ensure the safety of Ormaza and her family.”

When Ormaza sought comment from the bus company mentioned in her story, a manager ordered the journalist and her camera operator to leave. “He was very angry and tried to hit the camera,” Ormaza told CPJ. 

In early and mid-June, she received four death threats from Facebook accounts she could not identify, according to Ormaza and screenshots reviewed by CPJ. One said: “I hope I don’t have to use the bullet that has your name on it. I hope you understand, snitch.” 

After the car accident, Ormaza’s brother, who is a doctor, prescribed her pain medication and recommended she use an orthopedic brace on her neck. She did not report the highway incident or death threats to the police or attorney general’s office for fear of reprisal, she said.

CPJ called the bus company mentioned in Ormaza’s report and the police in Santo Domingo and emailed the attorney general’s office in Quito for comment, but did not receive any replies.

Crime and homicides, often carried out by drug-trafficking gangs, are rising in Ecuador, leading to a surge in threats and violence against the country’s journalists.

At a press conference in Quito on Wednesday, June 28, a CPJ delegation will release “Ecuador on edge,” a report documenting the impact of political paralysis and spiking crime on press freedom in Ecuador.