WASHINGTON — Ecuadorian police raided the home of journalist and opposition activist Fernando Villavicencio on Friday and confiscated his computers, Ecuadorian activists and news reports say.
Villavicencio, a reporter for independent Ecuadorian news site Plan V, said at a press conference that a group of police with machine guns broke into his house in front of his children and took his computers, cell phone, and documents, according to a press release sent out by the Ecuadorian free-press group Fundamedios.
Villavicencio, along with Clever Jimenez, a member of Ecuador's legislature and critic of President Rafael Correa, was sued by Correa in 2011 for libel after the pair accused the president of misrepresenting a police officers' strike as a coup attempt against him. Police also raided Jimenez's office on Friday, according to Fundamedios.
Correa addressed the raid on Twitter last night, saying that the police had found "serious things" in Villavicencio's home and accused Villavicencio and Jimenez into hacking into his email and that of other government officials.
"It's terrible what these people have been doing!" Correa tweeted.
"Why did the president know within hours of the raid the result of it?" said an Ecuadorian activist familiar with the raid who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "If the raid was ordered by the public prosecutor, i.e., justice, how did the president know so fast what happened? The answer is that in Ecuador there is no independent judiciary. The president controls judges and nobody does anything without his permission."
The activist said Villavicencio and Jimenez had information proving corruption on the part of the country's vice president in oil deals with Chinese companies, and evidence of bribes received by the secretary of intelligence.
The raid comes amid Ecuador's bid to reinvent itself as an internet freedom haven; the country has given asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in its embassy in London, considered offering asylum to former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, and has launched a research project aimed at freeing Ecuador from the global copyright system.
At the same time, the country has been increasingly cracking down on the press, passing a restrictive communications law earlier this year that bans "media lynching," or reporting that has a negative effect on a person's reputation without sufficient evidence. Ecuador also abuses copyright laws to silence its critics and get information removed from the internet, as happened to BuzzFeed earlier this year after it published documents showing Ecuador buying spy equipment, and more recently to oil giant Chevron.