Ecuadorian police detained five journalists associated with Ecuador Indymedia late Tuesday night, May 6th. Four of the five were released from custody on Wednesday afternoon. The government says that the four activists were detained because of their relationship with the fifth detainee, Ecuadorian resident and Colombian national Antonio Alcívar.
The government at first refused to issue a statement on the matter or inform the detainees of the reason for their arrests. The Regional Foundation for Assistance in Human Rights (INREDH) noted that this was a violation of the detainees’ constitutional right to be clearly informed of the reason for their detention along with the identities of those who ordered and carried out the arrests.
According to INREDH, it is believed that Alcívar is being pursued by the Colombian Administrative Security Department (DAS) for arms trafficking charges and is accused of having ties to the Colombian National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group.
Ecuadorian prosecutors are charging Alcívar with using a false identity. The detainee apparently used four aliases.
Ecuador Indymedia accused the government of targeting journalists for their leftist organizing and media work. They also emphasized that Indymedia—an international independent media platform open to a wide variety of contributors—cannot be held responsible for the activities of all of their collaborators.
Ecuador Indymedia contributors have been critical of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa’s support for large-scale mining and a proposed Free Trade Agreement with the European Union.
According to INREDH, it appears “that the [operation] was undertaken with the intention of intimidating alternative press that approaches information in a critical manner and is committed to social struggles. This action constitutes a violation of the freedom of expression.”
The arrests follow the March 1 Colombian military attack on a FARC camp in Ecuador. The event sparked a regional crisis and diplomatic ties between Quito and Bogotá are still broken. To justify the attack, Colombia has made a number of allegations—both publicly and through leaking documents via anonymous sources—of FARC ties in Ecuador. The ELN is Colombia’s second largest guerilla group and has in the past years suffered major attacks by the government, rightist paramilitaries and the FARC. While the two guerrilla groups have in the past at times collaborated, they have recently clashed over ELN territory near the Venezuelan border.
According to Ecuador Indymedia and INREDH, the Judicial Police (PJ) and the Intervention and Rescue Group (GIR) executed the arrests. The journalists were arrested on the street and then taken to their homes where searches were violently carried out. Agents reportedly confiscated computers, documents and hard drives from the journalists’ homes. Agents also reportedly confiscated a Che Guevara poster as “evidence.”
Ecuador Indymedia organized an 11 a.m. press conference Wednesday in front of the Quito Police station where the journalists were being held. And at 3 p.m., 50 activists marched from the Polytechnic University of Ecuador to the police station to demand fair and legal treatment of the detainees and that all charges be made public.
According to INREDH, the detainees were not permitted to see their lawyer and were forced to undergo interrogation in the presence of a lawyer provided by police.
Activists and INREDH are making complaints to the Ecuadorian Police Internal Affairs along with regional and international human rights organizations.
It is unclear why the Ecuadorian government made the arrests and whether the detentions are related to the recent conflict with Colombia. It seems possible that President Correa, in an effort to counter Colombian allegations, may be attempting to demonstrate the government’s resolve to root out guerrilla presence in Ecuador—and intimidate some critics on his left in the process.