(New York) – The Correa administration is moving to shut down Ecuador’s leading media freedom group, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should immediately end its attacks on the country’s independent human rights organizations.
On September 7, 2015, the Communications Ministry opened an administrative process to “dissolve” Fundamedios, an Ecuadorian group that monitors freedom of expression in the country. The government contends that Fundamedios engaged in political activities by publishing tweets with links to blogs or news articles criticizing the government. The arbitrary closure of the group would violate the government’s obligations to respect and protect the fundamental rights of free speech and freedom of association.
“The Correa administration wants to punish an organization for tweeting articles with news and opinions it doesn’t like,” said Daniel Wilkinson, Americas managing director at Human Rights Watch. “This is an egregious abuse of power and a clear example of this government’s authoritarian practices.”
The Communications Ministry’s resolution accuses Fundamedios of “disseminating messages, alerts, and essays with clear political implications” and includes an annex with 57 tweets, most with links to opinion or news articles critical of the government.
The ministry contends that these messages violate Fundamedios’ objective of promoting “social development” through the media and its prohibition on its participation in political issues, as outlined in Fundamedios’ own statutes.
One tweet says “Salvador Quishpe talks about national politics in light of strike” and links to an interview on the web-based research portal Ecuador Review in which Quishpe, an indigenous leader and government critic, discusses an upcoming national protest.
Another tweet says “Polls show citizens want consultation” and links to an article in an Ecuadorian newspaper in which the director of a polling company says Ecuadorians want to be consulted on issues ranging from a proposal to remove a constitutional limit on the number of times a president may seek re-election, to the government’s proposals for oil extraction in Yasuni National Park, one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.
Fundamedios has 10 days to defend itself before the Communications Ministry, before it issues a ruling, under the administrative process.
In 2013, President Rafael Correa issued a sweeping executive decree that grants the government broad powers to intervene in the operations of nongovernmental organizations, including dissolving groups on the grounds that they have “compromise[d] public peace” or have engaged in activities that were not listed when they registered with the government. A modified version of the decree, which maintains broad powers to dissolve nongovernmental organizations, was adopted in August 2015.
The government of Ecuador should close the administrative process against Fundamedios and repeal these norms to comply with its obligation to protect the rights to freedom of expression and association, Human Rights Watch said.
Under international law, governments must ensure that human rights defenders are allowed to pursue their activities without reprisals, threats, intimidation, harassment, discrimination, or unnecessary legal obstacles. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights held in 2003 that “[r]espect for human rights in a democratic state depends largely on human rights defenders enjoying effective and adequate guarantees so as to freely go about their activities.”
The rights to freedom of expression and association may be subject to limitations, but the limitations must adhere to strict standards so that they do not improperly impede the exercise of those rights. Any restrictions should be prescribed by law, necessary in a democratic society, and proportionate to the aim pursued, and should not “harm the principles of pluralism, tolerance, and broadmindedness.”
Article 16 of the American Convention on Human Rights states that the right of freedom of association “shall be subject only to such restrictions established by law as may be necessary in a democratic society, in the interest of national security, public safety or public order, or to protect public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others.”
In 2012, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association observed that the “[s]uspension or involuntary dissolution of associations should be sanctioned by an impartial and independent court in case of a clear and imminent danger resulting in a flagrant violation of domestic laws, in compliance with international human rights law.”
“The Correa government’s effort to kill the messenger reinforces serious concerns about freedom of expression in Ecuador,” Wilkinson said.