Ecuadorean environmental defenders at risk
In the last months of 2022, Ecuador faced spiralling violence related to organised crime and narcotrafficking. In 2022, the country recorded 4,603 violent deaths, an increase of 82.5% compared to 2021. Overcrowding and lack of state control in Ecuador’s prison system also led to riots, resulting in multiple deaths.
Separately, on 5th February 2023 over 10 million people in Ecuador participated in local elections for officials such as mayors and councillors. Voters also participated in a referendum on national-level policy questions promoted by the government of President Guillermo Lasso. The eight referendum questions sought to reform the Constitution on a number of issues including public security, democratic institutions and environmental governance. Voters rejected all eight proposals and handed major victories to opposition parties in the local election.
Human rights defenders killed
¿Quién fue Alba Bermeo y por qué deberíamos estar hablando de su asesinato?— Indómita (@Indomita_Media) October 26, 2022
Alba Bermeo tenía 24 años y 5 meses de embarazo. Era defensora de los derechos de la naturaleza y vivía en la parroquia de Molleturo, en Cuenca, #Ecuador. Te contamos más en este hilo 👇🧵. pic.twitter.com/XRdUgobXJE
On 22nd October 2022, 24-year-old environmental defender Alba Bermeo was shot and killed in Azuay. She was five months pregnant. According to Ecuadoran civil society groups, the attack took place after a group of people attempted to illegally remove gold from a mine near Molleturo. The defender was in a vehicle when unidentified attackers opened fire. This was the third attack in a month with firearms against residents of the parish of Molleturo, where local defenders have resisted illegal mining. On previous occasions, a community centre was burned and two other women defenders were attacked.
Separately, on 26th February 2023, Ai Kofán Indigenous defender Eduardo Mendúa Vargas was shot and killed at his home in Sucumbíos. Mendúa was director of Institutional Relations of the Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador - CONAIE) and a leader of the Cofan de Dureno community. Indigenous leaders blamed state-owned oil company Petroecuador for creating a climate of violence against Indigenous defenders and communities who resist extractive activities.
#URGENTE— CONAIE (@CONAIE_Ecuador) February 27, 2023
ASESINAN a Eduardo Mendúa, dirigente de Relaciones Internacionales, perteneciente a la nacionalidad Kofán de Sucumbíos.
Nuestro compañero se encontraba en su chacra cuando encapuchados le dispararon, crimen relacionado al conflicto petrolero.
Daremos un pronunciamiento pic.twitter.com/FVZnhqCONd
Internet activist Ola Bini acquitted
#URGENTE Primeras declaraciones del informático sueco @olabini tras la decisión unánime de su inocencia. "Más allá de que esta declaración de inocencia es una victoria fantástica para mí, esta es la primera vez que la justicia en Ecuador discute sobre seguridad informática ... pic.twitter.com/JP10mJFMvu— Justicia Minuto a Minuto (@MinutoJusticia) February 1, 2023
On 31st January 2023, privacy and internet security activist Ola Bini was unanimously acquitted by a three-judge tribunal after nearly four years of criminal proceedings marred by irregularities. As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, Bini was arrested in April 2019 without clear charges. He was later accused of illegally accessing the system of the National Telecommunications Corporation (CNT) to extract information from Petroecuador and the National Intelligence Secretariat. In their ruling, the Pichincha court said prosecutors had not presented evidence of any crime. During the trial, expert witnesses for both prosecution and defence agreed the key evidence provided by prosecutors did not prove unauthorised access to any system.
However, despite his acquittal, by March 2023 Bini had not been allowed to leave Ecuador, use his bank accounts or retrieve any of his devices seized in 2019. The Prosecutor’s Office and CNT signalled their intention to appeal once a formal notification of the sentence is issued.
Joint alert for Awá peoples on Colombian border
In March 2023, the Ombudspersons of Colombia and of Ecuador issued a joint early warning alert for the first time. They warned of threats from illegal armed groups to border Awá communities. Colombia’s Ombudsperson, Carlos Camargo, highlighted the attempted killing of an Awá leader in Nariño, near the country’s border with Ecuador. He said:
We note with obvious concern the occurrence of different behaviours that violate human rights, such as the forced recruitment of children and adolescents, as well as the serious threats against the life and integrity of the leaders of the Awá Indigenous community. - Colombia’s Ombudsperson, Carlos Camargo.
Trans activist arrested at demonstration
#DetenciónArbitraria— CDH.GYE (@CDHGYE) December 3, 2022
Alertamos detención a activista trans "Sebastian" en contexto de manifestación a los alrededores de "El Mercado del Rio" en el malecon 2000.
Policía Nacional se niega a da información sobre su paradero👇@DEFENSORIAEC @contraprisiones @DDHH_Alianza pic.twitter.com/JRHtd91dJT
On 3rd December 2022, police arrested trans activist Sebastián during a demonstration for trans rights on a public boardwalk near Mercado del Río in Guayaquil. Sebastián was taking part in the ‘Plantón Drag’ demonstration against discrimination on Ecuador’s trans population when police detained him. Before his arrest, police officers reportedly attempted to disrupt the protest saying the demonstrators needed a permit. Later, officers again disrupted the protest, insulting LGBTQIA+ people present and harassing a woman activist who was filming their actions.
According to the Comité Permanente por la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (Permanent Committee for Human Rights in Guayaquil - CDH.GYE), the police did not follow protocols when arresting the defender and holding him incommunicado for 12 hours. The group said the detention was therefore arbitrary and illegal. CDH.GYE and Fundación Mujer&Mujer provided legal aid to Sebastián. After mediation, the defender was released and the National Police offered a public apology. Both parties waived their right to file complaints about the incident.
Communities opposing mining and oil extraction
🔴Comunidad waorani de #Dicaro ante las amenazas y mentiras de @EPPETROECUADOR, @RecNaturalesEC y @goberorellana— Alianza de Organizaciones por los Derechos Humanos (@DDHH_Alianza) February 13, 2023
👉La comunidad lleva 50 días en protesta pacífica por sus derechos, debido a la contaminación causada por REPSOL y el ingreso inconsulto de PETROECUADOR. @RelatorDd pic.twitter.com/LoxMTezAtg
On 25th December 2022, Indigenous Waorani of the Dicaro community launched a peaceful protest against oil extraction in their territory and the resulting environmental damage. The protesters said that EP Petroecuador’s activities in their territory have taken place in disregard of their right to free, prior, informed consent. They set up roadblocks within the community as part of the protest.
Dicaro is one of several Indigenous communities living near oil facilities in the Yasuní National Park, Orellana province. With about 300 people, the community only came into contact with wider society in the 1950s – when the oil industry first began activities in their territory. Indigenous protesters said the extractive industry has contaminated local waters, affected their food supply and changed their way of life.
On 12th February 2023, the community issued a statement warning that EP Petroecuador had conducted a smear campaign to delegitimise their protest. The company accused protesters of sabotage and vandalism and threatened legal action against them. Indigenous protesters said the Orellana government also sent threats to members of the community.
In a separate development, CONAIE denounced that mining company Hanrine had attempted to illegally set up a camp on the El Triunfo sector of the La Merced Buenos Aires parish, Imbabura, on 24th January 2023. Police and military forces allegedly aided the miners, facilitating their entry. The action led to clashes, with several people beaten and injured with rubber bullets, and at least three people detained. The mine workers were reportedly forced to withdraw after the Ombudsperson’s representative in Imbabura verified that they did not have the documentation needed for the camp.
Journalist killed in El Oro
🛑#ALERTA | El comunicador orense César Henry Vivanco fue asesinado. Familiares lo encontraron con signos de haber sido torturado: las manos atadas, una almohada en la cabeza y un corte en el cuello.— FUNDAMEDIOS (@FUNDAMEDIOS) November 15, 2022
▶️ https://t.co/6UBYOAkGeT pic.twitter.com/MSf9ISDFwe
On 13th November 2022, journalist César Henry Vivanco was found dead in his home in Huaquillas, in the province of El Oro. Initial investigation by police estimated that he had been murdered about 48 hours before his body was found. As reported by civil society group Fundamedios, family members who found the journalist said his body showed signs of torture. The civil society group said Vivanco was known in El Oro for denouncing fraud in a local beauty contest.
Several attacks on journalists and media
In November 2022, journalist Lojano Jhon Lafebre, with digital media Lo Del Momento Loja, presented a complaint to the Communication Council showing multiple attacks against him from the accounts of officials of the Loja municipality. Lafebre said he had become a target for attacks after exposing irregularities in the municipality and demanding the mayor’s removal.
On 24th December 2022, two individuals on a motorcycle fired gunshots at the home of Andrés Solórzano, owner of Radio Sono Onda, in Portoviejo, Manabí province. Solórzano said the outlet’s office is in the same building. Three shots hit a vehicle that was parked outside and which is usually used for radio activities. Communicators with the radio station had received threats in the months before this attack.
On 30th December 2022, lawmaker and former journalist Fernando Villavicencio threatened journalist Carlos Vera with a defamation lawsuit. On Twitter, Villavicencio accused Vera of disseminating false information about his family in 2019, implying that Vera had been paid by a former government official to do so.
On 9th January 2023, journalist Esteban Avila of Radio Redonda received threatening messages referring to his comments on Twitter. The messages ordered Avila to delete publications he had written on alleged police responsibility for a femicide, saying he was “smearing the noble police institution.”
In January 2023, journalist Andersson Boscán with La Posta was threatened and harassed. After the news outlet published a series of reports regarding corruption in public companies, their offices and several other buildings in Quito were graffitied with the message “Boscán, do you love narcos?” The journalist also said several of his sources have mentioned threats to his life.
Separately in January 2023, journalist Sofia Montoya from Radio Pichincha received several threatening phone calls and messages after a candidate to the Pichincha Prefecture published her mobile phone number on social media.
On 6th February 2023, the home of journalist Juan Alcivar was attacked by a group of List 5 supporters after their candidate won a local election in La Concordia, Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas. The group hurled stones at his house and shouted derogatory insults, such as ‘dog,’ ‘you’ll see how we run you off,’ and ‘sell out’. Alcivar works with digital media outlet JAR TV. According to Fundamedios, List 5 supporters shared memes accusing Alcivar and JAR TV of favouring another candidate.
Obstruction of journalistic work during elections
#Reporte: Elecciones 2023 en #Ecuador via @Fundamedios: "Ecuador vivió un proceso— IFEX ALC (@IFEXALC) February 15, 2023
en el que la violencia fue letal y afectó las campañas de varios candidatos y el trabajo de algunos medios de comunicación y periodistas: https://t.co/bdxmIcRguA
Several media outlets and journalists reported facing challenges to covering local elections and to accessing polling venues on 5th February 2023. A correspondent for Teleamazonas in the Morona Santiago province said an army officer prevented him from filming outside a polling station. Similarly, two journalists with Revista Criterios were insulted by a member of the National Electoral Council and forced to leave a voting venue in Quito. In Los Ríos, journalists with Aldía were also prevented from covering the vote count.
On a related note, Expreso journalist Lourdes Guadamud was prevented from covering an incident at the Guayas’ office of the National Electoral Council on 20th February 2023. Guadamud said a police officer also attempted to intimidate her when she tried to cover the delivery of a judicial notification regarding electoral fraud allegations.
Sexist attacks on women journalists
In January 2023, three women journalists faced sexist attacks for their work. On 3rd January 2023, Washington Vallejo, a candidate for the Prefecture of Morona Santiago, made sexist remarks towards journalist Alexandra Mera during an interview. Vallejo grew annoyed after Mera questioned some of his statements. The politician began insulting her with sexist expressions.
Similarly, on 11th January, Jacobo Bucaram harassed journalist Dayanna Monroy on social media platform Twitter. Bucaram used sexist and aggressive language to insult Monroy, questioning her professionalism. Monroy has been harassed by members of the Bucaram family for reporting on alleged corruption involving the son of president Abdalá Bucaram.
In another incident, on 27th January, journalist Ana Lucía Freire of Zeta Radio was insulted by the mayor of Zamora, Víctor Manuel González, while interviewing him during his re-election campaign.
On 14th February 2023, the General Secretariat of Communication (SEGCOM) of the Presidency of Ecuador issued an official statement claiming that some journalists and a news outlet were “abusing freedom of expression” by spreading alleged falsehoods to create chaos. Fundamedios condemned this discourse, calling it “unacceptable and inappropriate.” The group said SEGCOM and President Lasso had previously made similar statements stigmatising journalistic work.
Bombs mailed to journalists from five outlets
Bombs mailed to at least 5 journalists in Ecuadorhttps://t.co/J0Qv1R6Snf— Committee to Protect Journalists (@pressfreedom) March 22, 2023
In March 2023, letter bombs were sent to five news outlets in Guayaquil and Quito. TV stations Ecuavisa, Teleamazonas and TC Television, radio station EXA FM and an independent news commentator were targeted. In each case, journalists received couriered manila envelopes sent from Quinsaloma containing USB drives and threatening messages.
On 16th March 2023, Ecuavisa journalist Lenin Artieda sustained slight injuries after one of the devices exploded when he inserted the USB drive in his computer. The blast took place in the newsroom of Ecuavisa TV in Guayaquil. The Attorney General’s office announced that it had launched a terrorism investigation. Press associations denounced the attack, calling on the government to take action to guarantee security for journalists.