Government Attempt to Shut Down Free Press Group in Ecuador Fails

The latest target in Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa’s campaign against free speech is the non-governmental organization Fundamedios. Citing legal violations for publishing political blog posts that might suggest participation in partisan politics, the government is attempting to shut down the organization. In response, several global free speech groups have protested, temporarily halting the dissolution of the organization.

Founded in 2007, Fundamedios advocates for freedom of expression within Ecuador by providing statistics and information regarding threats to journalists and different media groups while also holding workshops and events to teach people about laws pertaining to freedom of the press. In their attempts to educate, they republished several political blogs, an act the government claims demonstrates active participation in politics and thus a violation of laws that dictate that NGOs cannot be involved in such activities. In a letter submitted to Cesar Ricaurte, the executive director of Fundamedios, the Secretary of Communication wrote that the organization “demonstrates a clear intention to become a political actor that seeks to generate public mistrust regarding issues outside their jurisdiction.”

From the regulation of information passed to citizens about natural disasters to the public beating and arrest of journalist Manuela Picq for participating in a political protest, Ecuador’s citizens — and especially Ecudaorian cartoonists — are no strangers to the extreme measures the government will take to censor speech. “[Ecudaor] has one of the worst freedom of speech records in Latin America,” said Carlos Lauria, the coordinator of Latin American programs for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

In the past couple of years alone political cartoonist Bonil has faced trials, fines, and even threats in an attempt by President Correa to prevent Bonil’s “dissident” works from being published. “There have always been tensions between the government and the press,” Bonil commented in an interview with Freedom House, adding:

This is the first time in the country that there is a specific governmental policy directed to control the media. They are shaping the situation as though they were ‘democratizing the media’ and limiting the abuses of media companies. However, the result has been to control and silence the press. The ‘democratization’ did not mean to expand the number of people talking, but to limit the media to whomever the government wanted to hear.

Yet despite all of the obstacles groups like Fundamedios and cartoonists like Bonil face, Ecuador’s citizens and the global community aren’t standing by complacently while these injustices are enacted. Proactive steps taken both within and outside the country have temporarily halted the shutdown of Fundamedios and continue to empower Bonil to speak out about the state of free speech in his home country.

“The national and international community to remain vigilant regarding what may happen,” commented Ricaurte, “because, obviously, Fundamedios is not going to stop producing alerts on attacks against the press in Ecuador… unfortunately, the main aggressor against Ecuadorean journalism is the government.”

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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!