Ecuadorian Politician Sentenced to Jail for Anti-Government Tweets

An Ecuadorian politician has been sentenced to 15 days in jail for tweeting the fact that the niece of the nation’s Labor Minister has been placed in a lucrative government job. Popular Unity national deputy director Sebastián Cevallos has become the first person in Latin America to be sentenced to jail for tweeting.

Cevallos was taken to court by the niece in question, Paula Rodas, who works at the National Institute of Cultural Heritage, under the nation’s defamation laws. She is one of a number of relatives of Labor Minister Carlos Marx Carrasco who hold high-ranking government jobs. Cevallos named them on his Twitter account, denouncing that the socialist government has been open to the practice of nepotism and potentially denying qualified people jobs due to that. He called the appointment of Carrasco’s relatives in his July tweets “acts of corruption by a high-ranking official of Alianza País [Correa’s party].”

Carrasco responded by denying that he had any input in the hiring of any of his relatives, and that, should they indeed hold government positions, it was not due to his high rank. He did not deny that the individuals named worked for the government, however. It was later revealed that he and his niece offered to drop the charges should Cevallos apologize for his remarks, but he refused because “we are people who always tell the truth.”

Cevallos himself is also a socialist – a “militant leftist” according to his Twitter account – though considers himself to be to the left of President Rafael Correa’s ruling PAIS Alliance. He has been convicted, the PanAmerican Post reports, of “a fourth class misdemeanor typified by Article 396 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes acts that harm a person’s honor and reputation.” The court also cited him in violation of the Constitution’s Article 66, which Cevallos called “ridiculous” in remarks to the newspaper, as that provision specifically protects “rights to freedom,” including expression.

“This might open a disastrous precedent in Ecuador. They will seek to regulate the social networks,” Cevallos told the Post, warning that, should his appeal fail, “all political opinion on Twitter will be subject to criminalization.”

Cevallos fully intends to appeal his sentence, national media reports.

The Popular Unity party has scheduled a protest march in Cevallos’ name on November 26. In addition, Twitter users are expressing their support for his right to freely speak on social media using the hashtag #tuitearnoesdelito (“Tweeting is not a crime”).

Cevallos has also continued to tweet throughout the ordeal, accusing the Correa government of “authoritarian tendencies”:

The socialist government of Ecuador has established a precedent of having little respect for freedom of expression, particularly with the press, in recent years. In September, it shut down the only NGO working to document government censorship of media, Fundamedios, based on offensive tweets criticizing Correa’s offensive against the media. In particular, the government condemned an article titled “How to Shed a Decade of Authoritarianism, State-ism and Timidity.” Despite this, President Correa himself boasts a robust Twitter persona, often embarrassing himself by attempting to troll critics. On one occasion in April, he responded to an accusation of fascism with the phrase “Heil Hitler!” He has also referred to President Obama as “an Afro” and disparaged John Oliver’s television show as one of myriad “gringo talk shows… which are more obnoxious than a diuretic.” “‘English comedian’ is an oxymoron,” he added.

Accused of being intolerant towards free speech, Correa has said, “I come from academia, I am used to confronting ideas and discussing them with people who hold other views.”


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