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Journalist who appeared before IACHR reportedly drugged

(Fundamedios/IFEX) - 12 November 2011 - On 10 November 2011, journalist Christian Zurita was apparently drugged with a substance known as scopolamine. This alkaloid, derived from plants of the Solanaceae family, causes an individual to lose consciousness and the ability to control their actions. It is normally used by criminals to rob their victims. Most of Zurita's belongings, however, were not taken in the incident.

The journalist said he had been doing some paperwork from very early in the morning at the social security institute building and that he can remember everything clearly until 10:00 a.m. His recollection of later hours, however, is very hazy.

Zurita, who currently works for the "El Universo" newspaper and is facing a lawsuit for "moral damages" filed by President Rafael Correa for co-writing the book "El Gran Hermano", said the only thing he remembers is that he approached an Internet service location around 10:30 a.m. and from that moment on started to feel dizzy and confused. He also said that a man was trying to persuade him to do something and that he realized he had only US$250 left of the US$300 he originally had with him. The rest of his belongings were intact and he later verified that no bank transactions had taken place.

"I understand that I drove to the newspaper building around 1:00 p.m., but I don't know how I got there. I only know that, once inside the parking lot, I fell asleep and my colleagues found me around 6:00 p.m. They took me home and then to the hospital," he said.

The journalist remained under observation for several hours in Quito's Voz Andes Hospital. Tests carried out on him showed no traces of other narcotics. "I was told it was most likely scopolamine because of the way in which everything took place. Unfortunately they were unable to confirm this because the hospital does not have the ability to test for that particular substance."

A few weeks earlier, journalist Juan Carlos Calderón, the other author of the book "El Gran Hermano", received threats from an unidentified individual who told him to "get ready because he would be next." On 25 October, both journalists attended a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington DC about the state of freedom of expression in Ecuador. They took part in the hearing, to speak about their cases.

Fundamedios executives, who also appeared before the IACHR, have also received threats and, as a result, the government has issued an order for them to be provided with protection. The authorities made this measure known on 11 November via an announcement by the Deputy Secretary of Security, Leonardo Berrezueta, the police's Director of Intelligence, General Luis Tamayo, and the Secretary of Communication, Fernando Alvarado.

Fundamedios thanks the national government for this measure, but is concerned about the fact that it was announced without those affected being informed first. Fundamedios believes that all matters of personal safety should be treated seriously and as a private matter by the government, without using them for political ends. The government devalued the measure by announcing it in the manner in which it did.

Moreover, the threats against the Fundamedios executives have been reported to the IACHR since they violate article 63 of that body's regulations since they were a consequence of the national broadcasts issued by the government against Fundamedios in reprisal for the organisation's appearance before the IACHR.

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