Ecuador the First LatAm Nation to Convict a Twitter Activist
EspañolOn November 11, a court in the Ecuadorian city of Cuenca sentenced Sebastián Cevallos, a socialist and national deputy director of the Unidad Popular movement, to 15 days in prison for denouncing relatives of Labor Minister Carlos Marx Carrasco on Twitter for their involvement in an alleged case of nepotism.
The court convicted Cevallos 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 minister’s niece, Paula Francisca Rodas Espinoza, sued the social-media activist after feeling alluded to by his comments. However, Rodas Espinoza admitted that she has worked for the government’s National Institute of Cultural Heritage since July 2008.
Cevallos, who has 1548 followers on Twitter, told NGO Fundamedios that the court cited Article 66 of the Constitution, which, ironically, refers to the “rights to freedom.”
“It’s ridiculous to mention that article of the Constitution,” he said, “when they are sentencing me in the name of freedom and of freedom of expression.”
Article 66 grants Ecuadorians the right to uphold their reputation and good image.
The social activist tells the PanAm Post that he is now awaiting the official notification of the ruling and confirmed that he will request an appeal for clarification and expansion because he considers the ruling “unfair.”
He received the support of social-media users who shared the image of Cevallos along with the caption: “the first twitter user to be sentenced in Ecuador.” Messages of support and solidarity with Cevallos can be found using the hashtag #TuitearNoEsDelito, meaning “to tweet is not a crime.”
A soon as he found out about the ruling, Cevallos tweeted: “They will not intimidate us. We will go on.”
The trial began on October 19, when the Ecuadorian activist received the notification. He was told that on July 21, 22, and 23 of this year, he had “uttered expressions that discredit and dishonor” Rodas Espinoza.
Furthermore, the accusation against Cevallos claimed that his words in those messages were “absolutely false, malicious, and have the deep aim of causing harm.” His answer on Twitter was: “I’m not afraid.”
Art19 Declaración de los DD.HH. "Todo individuo tiene derecho de opinión y de expresión; este derecho incluye el no ser molestado… (1)
— Sebastián Cevallos (@sebastcevallos) November 16, 2015
“Every individual has the right to express his opinions.”
Fundamedios published a press release explaining Cevallos’ controversial tweets. In the first tweet, they say, he called a press conference to denounce “acts of corruption by a high-ranking official of Alianza País [Correa’s party].” In the second tweet, he asked his followers if they knew who the chairman of the Ethics Committee was. In the third, he specified that Rodas Espinoza was Carrasco’s niece and that she worked at the National Institute of Cultural Patrimony.
Cevallos says that the ruling contradicts the International Agreements on Human Rights, which Ecuador has signed. Particularly, he says, the charges against him contravene “Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights.”
Cevallos tells the PanAmPost that the Ecuadorian state has made use of all its power to send him to jail. He says that this can be the first step on a one-way road: “This might open a disastrous precedent in Ecuador. They will seek to regulate the social networks.”
He adds that “all political opinion on Twitter will be subject to criminalization,” and that Ecuador is an autocracy since the people in power “do not want to hear too many voices, especially the voices of the opposition.”
Cevallos continues to denounce nepotism in government, and says that the relatives of the people in charge occupy offices without merit. He says that these people “didn’t get there by competing with others. Rather, they are there because someone appointed them arbitrarily.”
Cevallos and his lawyers affirmed that he is the first Twitter user to be convicted and sent to prison in Latin America.
“We will carry on with our complaints,” they said. “We have decided that, if the court upholds the ruling, then I will be facing time in prison, and it will be like winning a medal of honor.”