Conflict over mining on indigenous lands leads to widespread civic space abuses
"Necesitamos a Acción Ecológica y volveremos a alzar nuestras voces cuando sea necesario para que siga abierta" https://t.co/F744PsOBxD— OPSur (@op_sur) January 24, 2017
On 6th January, environmental organisation Acción Ecológica - supported by human rights lawyers and representatives of international human rights organisations - fought back against attempts by the Ecuadoran government to shut it down. As covered in a previous CIVICUS Monitor update, on 19th December the Interior Ministry had asked the Ministry of the Environment to initiate an administrative dissolution process against the organisation. The attempted dissolution appeared to be linked to Acción Ecológica's efforts to raise awareness about the environmental impacts of a proposed copper mine on the lands of the Shuar indigenous people, and to its condemnations of the excessive force used by the security forces against the communities that resist the establishment of mining projects on their lands.
During a press conference on 6th January, the President of Acción Ecológica, Esperanza Martínez, stated:
"This isn't just about defending nature or land, but the right to participate, the right to work together, the right to protest, the right to speak."
On 20th January, CIVICUS along with 70 Latin American and international civil society organisations published an open letter to President Correa expressing their concerns regarding the increasing restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression linked to the conflict over mining in the Shuar territories of Ecuador, including the declaration of a state of emergency in the Morona Santiago province and the initiation of the administrative dissolution process against Acción Ecológica.
Urge Derogación del Estado de Emergencia en Morona Santiago y Desmilitarización de la Zona https://t.co/8D1GA1Nyro #ConflictosMineros— OCMAL (@conflictominero) December 20, 2016
Between 2006, when the Shuar expelled the Chinese mining company Explocobres S.A. (EXSA), and 2016, when they mobilised against the copper development projects Panantza-San Carlos and Mirador, military force has repeatedly been used to control and repress their communities.
On 22nd December, the Shuar protests against mining reached Quito, Ecuador's capital. Dozens of people gathered in the Plaza Grande to demand de-militarisation of the indigenous territories of the Morona Santiago province, under a state of exception since 14th December. The state of emergency was declared in response to the violence that erupted as the indigenous and peasant Shuar communities in the area tried to recover their lands, from which they had been forcibly evicted in August.
On 12th January, however, President Rafael Correa issued Decree 1294 extending the state of exception for an additional 30 days in the province of Morona Santiago. That had originally been declared in December in the context of the conflict caused by the presence of the Chinese mining company Explocobres S.A. (EXSA) in the Nankints community. After the state of exception was first established, five people from Patanza were jailed in a maximum security penitentiary.
Rectificación pedida por el INEC : https://t.co/rCZkkjW8Uc (El Universo - eluniversocom)— Noticias de Ecuador (@Ecuador_News) January 23, 2017
Este jueves 26 de enero, Fernando Villavicencio, entrega indemnización económica al Presidente Correa, dentro del juicio No. 826/2.012-SF pic.twitter.com/oh9bkRA07l— radiodifusoraecos (@noticiasecos) January 25, 2017
Also in the context of the conflict over mining on Shuar territories, on 27th January near 100 police officers broke in and raided the radio station La voz de Arutam, located within the headquarters of the Interprovincial Federation of Shuar Centers (FICSH) in Sucúa, Morona Santiago. According to a Shuar spokesperson, the police action against the radio took place in retaliation, as the previous day the radio had disseminated a message by indigenous leader and FICSH president Agustín Wachapá, who has been in prison since his arrest on 21st December, which occurred during a similar raid against the organisation's offices. In his message, Wachapá had exhorted his community not to give up and continue resisting in defence of their territory.
Also in January, a defamation case concluded with the family of Ecuadorian journalist Fernando Villavicencio paying US$ 47,306 in damages to President Rafael Correa. President Correa had sued Villavicencio along with former assemblyman Cléver Jiménez and physician Carlos Figueroa in 2011. The three men had accused Correa of committing crimes against humanity for ordering an armed incursion in the Police Hospital to quell the police revolt of 30th September 2010. Along with Jiménez, Villavicencio is also awaiting trial for allegedly hacking the emails of public officials and releasing confidential government information on a litigation case opposing the Ecuadorian state and transnational oil company Chevron.
In late January, on three separate occasions the newspapers El Universo and La Hora were forced to publish rectification articles with statistical unemployment data, as their original articles were considered to contain misinterpretations and misleading information. The corrected articles they were compelled to publish were prepared by the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INEC) and carried the heading “INEC: unemployment in 2016 has been steady”. Both newspapers made it clear that the articles and the language had been imposed by the government agency.
According to the domestic media freedom organisation Fundamedios, the exercise of free expression faced important challenges during 2016, many of them linked to the restrictions and sanctions on media outlets and media workers imposed by the 2013 Organic Communication Act. The organisation's latest annual report documented 491 attacks on the freedom of expression over the past year.
As the 19th February presidential elections approach, representatives of most political parties gathered in a public forum on 1st February and signed the document “Roadmap for Freedom of Expression 2017-2019”, with proposals for the new government -to be inaugurated in May- to improve the situation of the freedom of expression in Ecuador.
Civic Space Developments