Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno has just confirmed the deaths of reporter Javier Ortega, photographer Paul Rivas and driver Efraín Segarra. Photos apparently showing the bodies of the three members of El Comercio, one of Ecuardor's leading daily newspapers, emerged yesterday. They and their driver were abducted in Mataje, on 26 March, a locality in the northern province of Esmeraldas that is just a few kilometres from the border. They had gone to the border region to cover the clashes between government forces and armed groups that have been under way since January.
“We condemn this appalling crime with the utmost firmness and we urge the governments of Ecuador and Colombia to provide a detailed account of the circumstances surrounding this murder, RSF deputy director-general Antoine Bernard said. The authorities of both countries have to conduct an independent investigation on the actions took during the last weeks in order to free the journalists. Responsibilities have to be established, and sanctioned if needed”.
Many contradictory reports have circulated ever since their abduction was first reported. A communiqué signed by the breakaway FARC group, which was widely reproduced by media outlets and on social networks two days ago, claimed that they were killed in a military operation. An information that was firstly denied by both countries. They argued that the authenticity of the communiqué and the photos could not be verified earlier.
Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno rushed back to Quito late yesterday from Lima, the capital of neighboring Peru, where a Summit of the America began today. On arrival, he said he was giving the abductors 12 hours to prove that the three hostages were still alive. “If not,” he added, “we will act with the utmost firmness (...) to punish these people who violate all human rights.”
Ecuador is ranked 105th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index. Colombia is ranked 129th.