Government Policies Undermine Free Speech
(Washington, DC) – An interview with Ecuador’s communications minister, Fernando Alvarado, in the March 4, 2012 edition of the official newspaper El Ciudadano flagrantly distorted what happened during a recent meeting he had in Washington, DC, with Human Rights Watch.
The interview suggests that Human Rights Watch condones certain government policies that undermine free speech. On the contrary, in the meeting, Human Rights Watch repeatedly said that Ecuador should decriminalize defamation laws and stop prosecuting people for expressing their opinions.
“Alvarado's description of the meeting with Human Rights Watch is a blatant misrepresentation of our position,” said Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, who participated in the meeting. “During the meeting Human Rights Watch clearly and repeatedly objected to the government’s policies and actions against its critics, which violate basic free speech standards.”
Alvarado stated, for example, that all the nongovernmental organizations with which he met “understood the president's reasons to take the El Universo and the Gran Hermano cases to court,” referring to government legal actions against the president's critics, including directors and a journalist of the El Universo newspaper and the authors of a book titled Gran Hermano.
On February 29, Human Rights Watch met in its office with a large delegation from the Ecuadorian government led by Alvarado. The email requesting the meeting with Human Rights Watch stated the Ecuadorian government wanted to “better understand the concerns [of]... NGOs ... about the President’s actions [on free speech].”
During the meeting, Human Rights Watch stated that Ecuador has one of the poorest records on free expression in the entire region. By using criminal defamation laws and requesting damages and fines amounting to millions of dollars against its critics, the administration of President Rafael Correa has repeatedly violated international human rights standards and basic values of democratic societies, Human Rights Watch said during the meeting.
Human Rights Watch also strongly questioned the Ecuadorian government's efforts to export its policies against free expression by initiating an international campaign to discredit the work of the Organization of American States’ special rapporteur for freedom of expression.
During the meeting, the Ecuadorian delegation conceded that the country's criminal defamation laws – including the ones used against the critics of Correa – are problematic and ought to be repealed. Nonetheless, they defended Correa’s use of these laws against his critics in these cases.
International human rights bodies have long criticized the use of criminal defamation charges in response to allegations involving public officials. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has held that the honor of public officials or public figures must be legally protected but that this must be accomplished “in accordance with principles of democratic pluralism.”
“Instead of attempting to gain legitimacy by misrepresenting the views of international organizations such as Human Rights Watch, the Ecuadorian government should immediately stop harassing its critics and repeal legislation against free speech,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.