Edward Snowden and Ecuador press freedom

Amnesty International has issued a statement protesting the charges brought against Edward Snowden under the US Espionage Act. “No one should be charged under any law for disclosing information of human rights violations by the US government,” said Amnesty’s international law director Widney Brown. “Such disclosures are protected under the rights to information and freedom of expression.” Snowden (now without a valid passport) is apparently at the Moscow airport, awaiting a flight to (depending on the account) Ecuador, Venezuela or Cuba. There is a delicious irony to countries usually portrayed as authoritarian offering refuge while the ostensibly “democratic” United States is thusly chastised. “Regardless of where Snowden ends up he has the right to seek asylum,” said Brown. “Even if such a claim failed, no country can return a person to another country where there is a substantial risk of ill-treatment. His forced transfer to the USA would put him at great risk of human rights violations and must be challenged.”

We understand that Snowden is not obliged to take refuge only in countries with pristine rights records.  But there is a danger to taking too much glee in this—especially when Snowden’s WikiLeaks press people announce that he will seek asylum in a “democratic nation.”  The double standard that holds the US as a paragon of “democracy” certainly doesn’t mean that China and Russia and even Ecuador, Venezuela and Cuba aren’t (to varying degrees) authoritarian. Snowden is at risk of becoming a propaganda pawn for censorious regimes.

This is well illustrated by reactions to the new media law just passed in Ecuador. The headline on Left Green Weekly reads “Ecuador: Assembly passes law democratising media.” The Organic Communications Law was approved by the National Assembly in “an atmosphere of festive social mobilisation.” It limits the number of media outlets that can be owned by a single individual and allocates radio frequencies by equal thirds for public, private and community stations. It defines “social communication as a public service that must be provided with responsibility and quality of content” and establishes “ultimate media liability for content they publish.”

Contrast the coverage at the Committee to Protect Journalists. Their headline reads “CPJ dismayed by approval of media law in Ecuador.” CPJ protests: “The law establishes regulation of editorial content and gives authorities the power to impose arbitrary sanctions and censor the press.” It adds that President Rafel Correa’s administration “has engaged in widespread repression of the media, pre-empting private news broadcasts, enacting restrictive legal measures, smearing critics, and filing debilitating defamation lawsuits.”

Funny, eh?

We recognize that redistribution of media conglomerate assets can be a democratization, as noted in regard to similar trends in Venezuela. But you have to be a fool not to recognize the threat of granting any government the power to regulate media content. This is a temptation to abuse even by the most popular and progressive leaders. And as populists go, Rafael Correa is a pretty bogus one.

In its 2013 annual Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranks Ecuador at 119, Venezuela at 117 and Cuba at 171. Russia clocks in at 148, and China at 173. The United States ranks 32—an advance of 15 points over the previous year, when it was marked down due to the repression of reporters covering the Occupy Wall Street movement. 

Ranking last, even after North Korea, is Eritrea at 179. Finland, by the way, holds first place. We wonder if Snowden tried to take refuge there?

  1. Ecuador rejects US trade preferences

    Ecuador announced June 27 that it is unilaterally rejecting US trade benefits on 247 products. “Ecuador does not accept pressure or threats from anyone and does not negotiate its principals or submit to commercial pressure,” said Minister of Communications Fernando Alvarado. “Ecuador renounces, unilaterally and irrevocably, those trade preferences.”

    Under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA), Ecuadoran goods worth $223 million enter the US tax-free. The deal is up for renewal in July. “They’re threatening to take the trade preferences away because of the Snowden case,” President Rafael Correa told cheering supporters. “Our dignity doesn’t have a price.”

    Alvarado also said Ecudaor will send $23 million a year—the amount saved investors by the preferences—to the US to train the country on how to avoid “espionage, torture, extrajudicial killings and other acts that denigrate humanity.”  (Miami Herald, June 28)

    The day before, US Congress members led by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) threatened to deny Ecuador the preferential status if it accepted Snowden’s asylum application. “Our government will not reward countries for bad behavior,” Menendez said. “If Snowden is granted asylum in Ecuador, I will lead the effort to prevent the renewal of Ecuador’s duty-free access under GSP and will also make sure there is no chance for renewal of the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act. Trade preferences are a privilege granted to nations, not a right.” (Common Dreams, June 28)
  2. Ecuador has its own ‘PRISM’ program?
    We aren’t sure BuzzFeed is to be believed, but they claim to have been leaked secret documents revealing that Ecuador’s intelligence agency SENAIN has contracted an Israeli firm to develop something called a “GSM interceptor” that allows them to keep track of internal Internet communications… Hmmm.

    1. More of a “shame on us” situation, really..
      Some of what the NSA is doing has to be stopped by obligating the cell carriers to protect metadata and putting better restrictions in place. But a lot of what they are slurping up is stuff that people are giving away on FB and the like… it’s time for people to start using the tools on a mass basis that makes this kind of data collection infeasible.