These large-scale protests began when President Lenin Moreno announced on 2 October that his government was ending fuel subsidies in effect for nearly 40 years, causing a sharp hike in fuel prices. The protests led Moreno to decree a state of emergency the next day and to move the government from the highland capital, Quito, to the port city of Guayaquil.
In this extremely tense climate, journalists covering the protests have been targeted by both police and protesters. Police violence and arbitrary arrests of media personnel have been reported in many of the country’s major cities.
In Quito, two photographers with the newspaper El Comercio and several reporters for other media outlets including El Expreso, El Universo and Primicia were beaten by police while covering protests on 3 October. Two other journalists, Mateo Flores of Manzanas and Nicole Villafuerte of Vozes, were tear-gassed and arrested the same day, and were held for 27 hours.
The next day, Radio Olímpica’s Leyda Ángulo and TV Cisne’s Geovanny Astudillo were arrested and held for 12 hours without being given any explanation. Iván Lozano of the student TV channel Udla was also arrested by police officers, who destroyed his equipment.
In the city of Puyo, Marlon Santi and Jairo Gualinga of Lanceros Digitales were arrested and told to stop filming the protests. They were also brought before a judge but were finally released without being charged.
Camila Martínez, a member of the media department of the Ecuadorean Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE), was arrested while covering protests in Guayaquil on 7 October and was sentenced to five days in prison on charges of “mistreating, insulting and attacking law enforcement officers.”
RSF is in the process of documenting many other cases.
Interior minister María Paula Romo and President Moreno have repeatedly apologized for these abuses and have called on the police to respect the work of journalists and ensure they are able to cover demonstrations. But, given the scale and intensity of the protests, the government needs to make sure these instructions reach the police everywhere, including in regions far from the big cities, where journalists are particularly vulnerable.
Several radio and TV stations, such as Radio Centro Ambato, have been prevented from broadcasting by power cuts coordinated by the authorities. The headquarters of Quito-based Radio Pichincha Universal were raided and searched by police and representatives of the prosecutor’s office, who told its journalists that its radio frequency would be withdrawn if they did not change their editorial policies.
“President Moreno’s administration must stop censoring and obstructing journalists’ work and instead guarantee their safety throughout Ecuador,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau. “At this troubled time for Ecuador, the freedom to inform is more essential than ever for the entire population. The authorities must also quickly investigate and identify those responsible for the many attacks and threats, both physical and online, against the media all over the country.”
As well as being harassed by the police, journalists are also being targeted and attacked by demonstrators throughout the country, especially in rural regions, where they are suspected of being corrupt and working for the government.
The victims of protester hostility have included freelancer Andrea Orbe Saltos, William Rivadeneira of Cable Mágico, Carlos López of Macas News, César Correa of Radio Shalom, Yerson Palma of La Razón and Univision Arkansas, and reporters for Radio Caracol.
Many media outlets, including the newspaper El Comercio and the news website GK, have reported feeling very vulnerable and they say their reporters lack the protective equipment needed to cover the crisis properly.
Fundamedios, a local press freedom NGO, counted 59 attacks against journalists across the country in six days.
Ecuador is ranked 97th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.