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Repression in Ecuador deepens as president heads to new term

(CPJ/IFEX) - 29 January 2013 - The following is a CPJ Blog post:

By John Otis/CPJ Andes correspondent

One result of President Rafael Correa's high-profile campaign to demonize the country's private media can be seen on the desk of José Velásquez, news manager at Teleamazonas, a private Quito television station often critical of the government. Among the documents piled high on his desk are lawsuits, which used to be a rare thing. Encouraged by Correa, who has personally sued newspapers and journalists, Velásquez says, the subjects of Teleamazonas news reports are now filing between two and five lawsuits per month against the station.

"Because the president is so aggressive with journalists, it empowers a lot of people," Velásquez says. "Correa says we are incompetent and corrupt. So, now the average Joe in the street says: 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, you are corrupt so I am going to sue you too.'"

Critics say that in the absence of a strong political opposition, Correa, who is heavily favored to win another four-year term in the February 17 election, has turned the Ecuadoran press into his whipping boy. In speeches, Correa vilifies the news media as "liars" out to sabotage his "citizen's revolution." Along with the lawsuits filed by the president, his government has enacted laws that suppress political speech. Government ministers refuse to speak to critical private media. Regulators have shut community radio stations that did not support the administration. And some reporters have been subjected to a seemingly organized barrage of insults via Twitter.

All of this appears to have emboldened some members of the public to confront the media in a variety of ways, from legal harassment to physical attacks, Cesar Ricaurte, director of the Ecuadoran press freedom group Fundamedios, told CPJ. In 2012, Fundamedios documented 173 acts of aggression against Ecuadoran journalists, up from just 22 in 2008. These acts included the first killing since 2005 of an Ecuadoran reporter for reasons related to his work, as well as 13 assaults and 15 threats.

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