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Ecuador15 June 2005

Police tap two TV journalists’ phone calls

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the action of the Ecuadorian police in tapping and recording the phone calls of journalists Milton Pérez and Maria Fernanda Zavala of local TV station Teleamazonas since 20 April, the date of President Lucio Gutiérrez’s overthrow in a popular uprising.

"The sole aim of these police dirty tricks is to put the news media under state surveillance," the press freedom organisation said. "Ecuador’s political instability and attempts to prosecute members of the ousted government do not justify tapping journalists’s calls without their knowledge."

Reporters Without Borders added: "We call for a thorough investigation to establish who was responsible and we think the judges who approved the tapping should be required to defend their decision."

The police on 10 June acknowledged tapping the two journalists’ mobile phones and recording their calls with the aim of locating a fugitive former minister, Oscar Ayerve, whom the journalists interviewed on 9 of May after he went into hiding on 20 April. A warrant was issued for Ayerve’s arrest immediately after Gutiérrez’s ouster because of his role in the use of violence against protesters during the uprising. He was on the run for a month thereafter.

It was a member of parliament, Carlos González, who revealed that the journalists’ phones were being tapped. Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying the tapping began on 20 April and received only retroactive approval from a judge on 17 May.

The police have issued contradictory statements. While acknowledging they did the tapping, they denied having the required equipment. They also said they had judicial authorisation but denied getting it retroactively.

Zavala told Reporters Without Borders that Ayerve ceased to be a fugitive from justice on 18 May, when bail of 8,000 dollars was paid. "What I don’t understand is why they continued to tap our phones after that date," she said.

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