Snowden Destination Ecuador Irked by Recent U.S. Criticism of Press Repression

Ecuador's consideration of asylum for NSA leaker Edward Snowden comes days after the State Department angered socialist President Rafael Correa by criticizing his new law that stomps on press freedom.

"The United States is concerned by the Ecuadorian National Assembly’s passage last Friday of a Communications Law that could restrict freedom of the press and limit the ability of independent media to carry out its functions as a critical part of Ecuador’s democracy," spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement Tuesday.

"As recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The Inter-American Democratic Charter, signed by the United States, Ecuador, and 32 other countries in the hemisphere, establishes freedom of expression as an essential component of representative democracy. Active, independent, and responsible media is critical for informing the public," she continued.

"While it remains to be seen how the new Communications Law will be applied in practice, it is important in a democracy that laws not have a suppressive effect on free speech, narrow the space for fair and unbiased reporting, or lead to self-censorship by the independent media. In solidarity with the Ecuadorian people and government, as well as with other governments and stakeholders in the region committed to freedom of expression, we underline the importance of ensuring that the independent media is able to do its work without fear of reprisal or sanction. Respect for the fundamental freedoms of citizens – including freedom of expression and of the press – is critical in guaranteeing the vitality of this essential component of representative democracy."

Correa said in response to U.S. criticism of the law last month that he was drafting a letter to Washington "telling the White House that we also ask that you protect the life of the soldier Bradley Manning and the Guantanamo prisoners."

“My country is sovereign, we are not a colony of anyone," Correa continued. "We will respond with dignity to such insolence."

A summary of the new law, which aims to turn reporters into state propaganda-peddlers, from the Committee to Protect Journalists:

After inspecting a hydroelectric project in northern Ecuador last year, President Rafael Correa complained about the scant press coverage of his visit and suggested it was part of a media blackout. 'Did the Ecuadoran media conspire to ignore this important event? It seems like that is the case,' Correa told the crowd at a town hall meeting. 'In this country, good news is not news.'

Under Ecuador's new Communications Law, however, journalists may have to pay far more attention to ribbon-cutting ceremonies and other government PR events. Article 18 of the law forbids the 'deliberate omission of ... topics of public interest.' But this wording is so vague that nearly any action by local, state, or national government official could be considered of public interest.

...In addition, the government agency that will enforce the new law and impose sanctions will be headed by one of three candidates recommended by Correa, whose government has engaged in widespread repression of the media, including pre-empting private news broadcasts, enacting restrictive legal measures, smearing critics, and filing debilitating defamation lawsuits, CPJ research shows.

Ecuadoran foreign minister Ricardo Patiño Aroca confirmed in Spanish and English on his Twitter feed today that the country is considering giving haven to Snowden, who flew from Hong Kong to Russia.

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