NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is bound for the sunnier skies of Ecuador, on this whirlwind tour of countries semi-hostile to the United States. While Ecuador has been a safe haven for world-class leakers in the past, including Wikileaks editor Julian Assange, the country is no utopia for journalists. Given a “Partly Free” rating by Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press scale, their report notes:
“Attacks on journalists and media houses continue to rise. In 2011, Fundamedios, the national press freedom watchdog organization, cited nearly 150 incidents of aggression (physical, verbal, and legal) against the media by authorities as well as by ordinary citizens.”
President Rafael Correa reportedly called the media “assassins with ink.” At least one journalist who criticized Correa’s handling of a police uprising had to flee to Miami after being charged with three years imprisonment under the country’s not-so-friendly defamation laws.
Correa has hit back at critics, saying “We won’t tolerate abuses and crimes made every day in the name of freedom of speech. That is freedom of extortion and blackmail.” (Journalists Without Borders labels Ecuador’s media issues with a pleasant-sounding “satisfactory” rating).
Indeed, Correa could point out that while the rest of the free world is looking to imprison Assange, Ecuador is protecting him in their London embassy. The whole Wikileaks ordeal has lead to a frosty relationship between the U.S. and Ecuador. In leaked diplomatic cables, the U.S. ambassador alleged Correa had promoted a corrupt officer, which prompted Ecuador to expel the diplomat, and for the U.S to then expel the Ecuadorian counterpart in kind.
So, not everyone is convinced that Ecuador is protecting Assange for purely principled reasons. “There is a huge gap between what Correa says about press freedom and reality,” said César Ricaurte, head of press watchdog group, Fundamedios. “If Assange were Ecuadorean, I dare say he would already be in jail.”
Whether Ecuador is doing this as a public relations stunt, or it has a convoluted stance on press freedom, it appears that leakers have a new safe haven.