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Police mutiny leads to censorship, injured journalists

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa is attacked with tear gas by rebel police angry at a new law cutting benefits
Ecuador's President Rafael Correa is attacked with tear gas by rebel police angry at a new law cutting benefits

As hundreds of soldiers and police in Ecuador took over police barracks and set up road blocks across the country on 30 September to protest benefit cuts, the authorities ordered local radio and television stations to carry state news broadcasts, report the Andean Foundation for Media Observation & Study (FUNDAMEDIOS), the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). At least 20 journalists were injured in the fray.

After accusing the rebel police of a coup attempt, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa declared a state of emergency and ordered TV and radio stations to interrupt their programming to carry broadcasts from Ecuador TV, a state-owned channel.

It meant that citizens were unable to receive balanced information from any independent media at a critical time, Freddy Barros, editor-in-chief with the TV station Ecuavisa, told CPJ.

In response, rebel officers blocked airports and roads, occupied the national assembly, blockaded the President and broke into the offices of Ecuador TV, say local news reports. A group of people also gathered at Ecuador TV to protest the government's order, said CPJ.

According to FUNDAMEDIOS, an interim IFEX member, at least 22 reporters and photojournalists were attacked, threatened or harassed as they covered the police revolt, including international reporters from Agence France-Presse and Latin American satellite TV station Telesur. Officers threw tear gas canisters and beat reporters, and burned and illegally confiscated journalists' equipment, FUNDAMEDIOS said.

"We are concerned by the violence unleashed against journalists covering this unrest and call on the authorities to bring those responsible to justice," said CPJ. "We are also alarmed by the government's use of emergency powers to order broadcasters to carry programming only from the state-owned channel. This deprived the public of a choice of news coverage at a critical moment."

The President himself was hit by tear gas cans and bottles of water when he tried to speak at a police barracks in Quito, reports CPJ. He was rushed to hospital, but strikers at the hospital prevented him for leaving for 11 hours, say local news reports. Many journalists, including an RSF correspondent, were denied entry to the hospital. Soldiers eventually stormed the hospital and enabled Correa's return to the presidential palace.

The drama was sparked by a vote in congress last Wednesday that cut the benefits of police and armed forces. Correa has vowed to punish all those behind the rebellion. News reports said two people were killed during the revolt.

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