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IFEX-ALC acknowledges Ecuadoran president's decision

(IFEX-ALC) - 19 March 2012 - IFEX-ALC - an alliance of 16 members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) in Latin America and the Caribbean - values the pardon granted by Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa, exempting three directors of the daily "El Universo" and a former feature writer from a sentence of three years in prison and a US$40 million fine, and refraining from pursuing further judicial action against journalists Juan Carlos Calderón and Christian Zurita, authors of the book "El Gran Hermano" (Big Brother), who had been sentenced to pay a US$1 million fine each. Correa's decision eases the situation for the victims in these two cases, which had become emblematic of the violations of freedom of opinion and freedom of expression rights taking place in Ecuador.

IFEX-ALC, however, recognises that this decision will not immediately transform the inhibiting environment for critical journalism and continues to be concerned over other critical issues that affect freedom of expression in Ecuador, among them the entry into effect of amendments to the Law on Elections and Political Organisations, also known as the "Code of Democracy", which establish serious restrictions on the right of Ecuadoran citizens to inform and be informed without prior censorship by stipulating that media outlets cannot convey reports, articles or other messages that could be interpreted as a direct or indirect promotion, in favour of or against, any particular candidate for public office. In addition, under the amendments private individuals are prevented from entering into advertising contracts that refer to any matter regarding the electoral process, thus limiting the right of citizens to, for example, promote responsible voting, encourage the youth vote, etc. Finally, the amendments establish restrictions on media coverage on the actual day of an election.

IFEX-ALC is of the view that the government should take advantage of this opportune moment of positive action and calls for:

1. The Ecuadoran government to refrain from using the justice system to persecute journalists.
2. The Ecuadoran government to stop disseminating a discourse that stigmatises journalists and privately-owned media outlets, and refrain from using state communication mechanisms to discredit them.
3. The international community to act as a mediator in order to start a broad dialogue between all the sectors involved in the current government-press conflict, with the objective of swiftly arriving at agreements that will protect in the best way possible the fundamental rights of the citizens of Ecuador and the principles that should govern a democracy.
4. The Government of Ecuador to guarantee that journalists are able to freely work during the electoral period and ensure that respect is shown for the adoption of legitimate editorial positions by privately-owned media outlets.

In the same sense, IFEX-ALC hopes the change of position publicly expressed by the president of Ecuador will be reflected going forward with respect to the mandate of the OAS's Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, since modifications that have been proposed by Ecuador would put the efficacy of the special rapporteur's work at risk.

IFEX-ALC maintains its availability for dialogue with the Ecuadoran government with respect to compliance with international freedom of expression standards in the country, with the objective of encouraging the immediate adoption of measures that provide protection for journalists and media outlets and contribute to an improvement in the freedom of expression situation at the regional level.

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