Ecuadorean Political Leader Who Criticized Government Nepotism on Twitter Gets 15 Days in Prison

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Cevallos (left) during a press conference. Photo taken from his Twitter account.

On November 11, 2015, political leader Sebastian Cevallos was sentenced to 15 days jail for using Twitter to report an alleged case of nepotism within the Ecuadorian government.

Cevallos is the deputy leader of the leftist movement, Unidad Popular, and previously had written tweets claiming that 20 relatives of the Minister for Labor, Carlos Marx Carrasco, also occupy public offices.

The tweets he wrote made reference to the minister's daughters: Gabriela Carrasco, who holds the position of ministerial advisor, and Silvia Carraso, administrative director of Elecaustro, a company that oversees hydroelectric projects.

GABRIELA CARRASCO daughter of @CarlosMarxC ministerial advisor..!! Salary: 3000 dollars..!!

#TuitearNoEsDelitopic.twitter.com/vvAORRKriq

— Sebastián Cevallos (@sebastcevallos) 11 November, 2015

Silvia Carrasco the other daughter of @CarlosMarxC administrative director of ELECAUSTRO xq

#TwittearNoEsUnDelitopic.twitter.com/utSUOewHeX

— Sebastián Cevallos (@sebastcevallos) 11 November, 2015

After the information was made public, Paula Rodas, an official of the National Institute of Cultural Heritage and niece of Carrasco, filed a lawsuit, challenging what Cevallos said. The filing read:

…through his use of twitter, Mr Rodrigo Sebastian Cevallos Vivar has uttered words of clear disrepute and shame in saying that by being the niece of Carlos Marx Carrasco the person in question has employment in the public sector.
[…]
…since the 21 of July, 2008, owing to the her tireless efforts and achievements, Paula Francisca Rodas Espinoza has held a permanent position in the public sector.

According to the newspaper El Universo, Rodas called upon article 396 of the comprehensive organic penal code (abbreviated as COIP in Spanish) that says “a penalty of 15 to 30 days jail will be imposed…for any person who, through any platform, makes defamatory remarks against another person.”

@CarlosMarxC tries to intimidate and silence those who speak the truth. You don't scare us. We will go on.!! pic.twitter.com/IxFi1PoQ0Z

— Sebastián Cevallos (@sebastcevallos) 20 October, 2015

The non-governmental organisation Fundamedios, which defends the freedom of speech of journalists and social media users, such as Cevallos, that are accused of corruption or are censored in the mass media, released a statement confirming the sentence. Fundamedios has also been threatened with closure by the Ecuadorian government in the past.

Fundamedios released a statement confirming the sentence, which was issued under article 66 of the Ecuadorean Constitution. According to Cevallos: “It's ridiculous that they are bringing up this article from the constitution, as it is in the name of freedom and freedom of expression they are sentencing me.” Article 66 protects the rights to both freedom of expression and opinion, and the right to honor. The statement continues, describing the three tweets of interest to authorities:

El juicio, que fue resuelto de manera expedita, inició el 19 de octubre, cuando Cevallos recibió la notificación. En la demanda planteada por Rodas Espinosa, la funcionaria aseguró que los días 21, 22 y 23 de julio de este año, Cevallos, identificado en la red social como @sebastcevallos, “ha proferido expresiones en franco descrédito y deshonra” en su contra, por tres mensajes de Twiiter que según la funcionaria se han manifestado “de forma absolutamente falaz, dolosa y con el profundo ánimo de irrogar daño”.

Los ‘tuits’ que se refiere la funcionaria son tres; en el primero, Cevallos convoca a una rueda de prensa para denunciar, según él, “actos de corrupción de un alto funcionario de Alianza País”; en el segundo, Cevallos pregunta a sus seguidores si saben quién es el presidente de la comisión de ética del partido de gobierno, con mención al Ministro y en el tercero, alude directamente a la demandante con el siguiente mensaje: “Paula Rodas sobrina @CarlosMarxC está en INPC- regional 6 Efectivamente es el Ministro de Trabajo de su familia”.

The trial, which began on the 19 of October, when Cevallos received the notification, was resolved quickly. The claim of Rodas Espinosa, the official, stated that on the 21, 22 and 23 of July this year, Cevallos, known on the social network as @sebasticevallos, “uttered words of blatant defamation” against her, over three Twitter message that according to the official were “completely false, hurtful and carried a deep intent to cause harm.”

There were three tweets that the official referred to. In the first tweet, Cevallos calls for a press conference to reveal, according to him, “acts of corruption by a high ranking official from Alianza
Pais”. In the second tweet, Cevallos asked his followers if they knew who the president of the ruling party's ethics commission was, with mention to the Minister. The third, alludes directly to the
plaintiff with the following message: “Paula Rodas, niece of @CarlosMarxC is in INPC- regional 6. He (Carlos Marx) is effectively the Labor Minister for his family. 

After the verdict, Sebastian wrote on his Twitter account that he does not fear the injustices of this country, and that he will appeal the sentence.

#TuitearNoEsDelito [#Tweetingisnotacrime] we knew this would happen, in the name of “freedom of speech” GUILTY. We are not scared, WE WILL GO ON..!!

— Sebastián Cevallos (@sebastcevallos) 11 November, 2015

Thousands of Cevallos’ followers have shown their support with the Twitter hashtag #TuitearNoEsDelito [#Tweetingisnotacrime], as he is the first Ecuadorian to receive jail time for using social media to report nepotism in the government.

The Twitter account of Frente Popular Azuay (@FrentePopularA), the opposition movement lead by Sebastian Cevallos, wrote that this case should not involve the law.

#TuitearNoEsDelito [#Tweetingisnotacrime] Stop using the law to presecute and lock @sebastcevallospic.twitter.com/kzuFGXIJiG — Frente Popular Azuay (@FrentePopularA) 11 November, 2015

User Byron Guaman (@byrong_23) made the following comment on social media.

The government can't handle any criticism, not even from the world of social media and the Internet. #TuitearNoEsDelito [#Tweetingisnotacrime]

— Byron Guamán (@byrong_23) 11 November, 2015

Caty Sarmiento P. (@caty_sp_20) stated that free speech must not be stopped.

Neither jail nor negligence will quiet us. Everyone knows the truth! #TuitearNoEsDelito [#Tweetingisnotacrime]— Caty Sarmiento P. (@caty_sp_20) 11 November, 2015

Cesar Zea (@Cesar1983Z) tweeted in support of his friend.

What an honor it is to be your friend @sebastcevallos, you have always had the courage to defend what is right. I stand by you; keep fighting #TuitearNoEsDelito [#Tweetingisnotacrime]

— Cesar Zea (@Cesar1983Z) 11 November, 2015

A group of experts from the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have argued that some of the current legislation in Ecuador violates freedom of speech and freedom of association in the country. Cases such as the memes from Crudo Ecuador that annoyed the president Rafael Correa, or the imprisonment of Francisco Endara for supposedly applauding during a demonstration, are still in the minds of residents.

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