Amnesty International says authorities in Ecuador are harassing leaders of indigenous groups and farmers to prevent them from organizing protests against projects that would affect their environment and lands.
In a report issued Tuesday, the human rights group cites the cases of 24 activists targeted with what appear to be unfounded charges, arbitrary arrests and strict bail conditions for campaigning against laws and policies on the use of natural resources. The questionable charges took place over an 18-month period.
The report says the 24 leaders have faced 16 charges of terrorism, 11 charges of sabotage, six charges of blocking roads and one charge of homicide, linked to protests in 2009 and 2010. Judges have dismissed many of the charges and arrests as baseless, but 11 of the 24 people have not yet been cleared.
Amnesty's researcher Tamaryn Nelson says these charges are having a chilling effect on entire communities, who become reluctant to voice legitimate concerns about decisions that affect them.
The Latin American country is a large producer of crude oil, and the government has announced plans to expand mining. These projects encroach on farming land and have an effect on the environment in rural communities.
Nelson says that instead of engaging in constructive dialogue and proper consultation with the affected communities, authorities are "using any tool in the box" to discourage people from voicing their disapproval. She calls on the authorities in Ecuador to promote, protect and respect the right to freedom of expression, assembly and association of its people.