Ecuador’s media monitors say cartoonist may be guilty of ‘socioeconomic discrimination’ in political cartoon

Feb 12, 2015

By Rebeca Morla

Xavier Bonilla, the Ecuadorian cartoonist known as Bonil, is once again the target of a government investigation over one of his newspaper cartoons.

On February 9, the Superintendency of Information and Communication (Supercom) conducted a hearing on charges of “socioeconomic discrimination” against the artist.

The Xavier Bonilla political cartoon targeted by Supercom.

The Xavier Bonilla political cartoon targeted by Supercom.

Bonilla, a 2015 arts nominee in the Index of Censorship’s Freedom of Expression awards, attended the hearing with his attorneys, Ramiro García and Lenin Hurtado. The defense claimed the government violated the artist’s rights to due process, by denying them access to information and not making the complaint report available to their client.

Supercom representatives countered that the hearing was scheduled to simply “listen to all parties,” and not yet to render a decision.

In October, 14 social organizations filed a lawsuit against Bonil and local media outlet El Universo. They contend that a cartoon targeting National Assemblyman Agustín “Tin” Delgado, a former member of Ecuador’s national football team, current legislator, and member of the ruling PAIS Alliance party, constituted “discrimination.”

Bonil’s drawing, published in the Guayaquil newspaper El Universo in August, referred to a speech Delgado made before the National Assembly, in which the deputy stuttered frequently. According to the plaintiffs, the cartoon violates Articles 61 and 62 of Ecuador’s Law of Communications, which prohibit the dissemination of “discriminatory messages.”

Two days after the drawing was released, El Universo and Bonil publicly apologized to the legislator. The central government, however, broadcast a video nationwide in which the cartoon was described as “an insult to human dignity.”

Moreover, Delgado continued his complaints regarding the cartoon via his Twitter account. Bonil apologized again, saying that “if a public apology helps to erase the feeling of disrespect that you felt … I here express that apology with sincere conviction.”

Ecuador’s Supercom considered the lawsuit valid, and summoned the cartoonist to appear on January 16, under the charge of racism. Nonetheless, on January 9, two days after the Charlie Hebdo shooting, they rescheduled the hearing, and also changed the charge to “socioeconomic discrimination.”

This is not the first time Bonil has been prosecuted for his work. Last year, the cartoonist was sanctioned after he published a drawing related to the raid on the home of Fernando Villavicencio. The former oil trade unionist and legislative adviser was under investigation at the time, after allegedly hacking e-mail accounts of high-level government officials.

On that occasion, El Universo had to pay a fine equivalent to 2 percent of its average three-month revenue. Bonil, for his part, was forced to apologise.

Support from Bonil sympathizers has had a strong presence on social networks, with the hashtags #YoSoyBonil (I am Bonil, after the “I am Charlie Hebdo” matra that followed the Paris murders at a humor magazine) and #MiLápizEsLibre (My pencil is free).

Many of those in the audience at the hearing sported banners and shirts with signs of support for Bonil. Several nonprofits and international NGOs have also shared messages of support and solidarity with the cartoonist.

Carlos Ponce, director of Latin America programs at Freedom House, says “the ludicrous allegations against Bonil are the latest example of the Ecuadorian government’s ongoing effort to stifle the country’s independent media.”

He added that President Rafael Correa has used “a variety of tactics to punish journalists and media outlets,” going back to 2008.

Credit: PanAm Post,