CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

Bolivia

Live rating: Obstructed

Last updated on 11.12.2018 at 16:22

Overview

With increasing political polarisation in Bolivia, the work of civil society and journalists is being negatively affected. Civic space in Bolivia has narrowed as a result of the introduction of funding restrictions, the selective application of administrative requirements for CSOs and a combination of propaganda which damages the image of the civil society sector.

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 Concerns after National Police confirms the existence of a social media monitoring unit

Concerns after National Police confirms the existence of a social media monitoring unit

On 27th November 2018, an audio was leaked through social networks in which the General Police Commander Faustino Mendoza speaks about the surveillance of messages from journalists and politicians.

Association

On 6th December 2018, the Observatorio de los derechos LGBT (LGBT rights Observatorypublished the story of Roberto Condori, journalist and LGBT activist in Bolivia who has been facing discrimination and threats due to his activism and his sexual orientation. Condori is also part of the aymara indigenous community, which as he explained, adds additional challenges due to the patriarchy that rule indigenous communities, according to the activist. Despite these challenges, the activist moved forward to advocate for the rights of the LGBTI community through the production of documentaries that show the struggles of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans people within indigenous communities.

Peaceful Assembly 

On 22nd November 2018, activists of the 21-F Movement, a group that opposes the candidacy of President Morales for re-election demonstrated in several cities in Bolivia. One of the protests took place in front of the Departmental Electoral Court in La Paz and no incidents were reported. The movement was born after the referendum on 21st February 2016, where citizens rejected a constitutional amendment to let Evo Morales run for a further term in 2019.

On 6th December 2018, a coalition of CSOs and social movements organised a national protest to support the 21-F Movement. The day ended with reports of clashes between demonstrators and police officers in La Paz. Suleydi Estivariz died after she fell and hit her head during a struggle with police officers. Two police officers were reportedly injured during the protest. 

Expression

The Inter-American Press Association expressed its concern about the Ley de Organizaciones Políticas (Law of Political Organisation) that mandates private media to publish electoral-related advertisements free of charge. The organisation claims this provision could negatively  affect the economic situation of some media outlets. The president of the organisation, Gustavo Mohme, said that the legislation "maintains the government's line of imposing and using private media as another instrument for the execution of its policies and decisions". 

In a separate incident, in October 2018, the Asociación Nacional de la Prensa de Bolivia (National Association of the Press, ANP) denounced the verbal attack suffered by Jaime Iturri Salmón, content director of the ATB television network. In addition, ANP rejected the suspension of the radio program “Cabildeo” after the journalist Amalia Pando interviewed former president Carlos Mesa, who is currently a presidential candidate.

On 15th November 2018, the independent journal Página Siete, reported that representatives of the Association of Volunteers against Childhood Cancer (AVCCI) harassed one of its journalists. This incident occurred after the publication of a story in which parents of children with cancer demanded more accountability of AVCCI. The parents claimed that money promised through AVCCI's campaign "Un ají de fideo por los niños con cáncer", is not reaching the children. Página Siete reported that the journalist received threatening phone calls.  AVCCI also published a statement rejecting the story as "false".

On 27th November 2018, an audio was leaked in which the General Police Commander Faustino Mendoza speaks about the surveillance of social media messages from journalists and politicians. However, according to Commander Mendoza, the messages included in the leak video "were deliberately manipulated, edited and addressed with personal purposes and interests that intend to produce a media show". He also admitted, to the existence of a monitoring unit for social networks and media which seeks to protect citizens from fake news and cyber-crime. The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Edison Lanza, requested the Bolivian government to clarify if the government is monitoring journalists for their work.

Association

Human rights defenders face harassment and threats, including from government officials, undermining their ability to work independently. In December 2013, the Ministry of the Presidency expelled the Danish NGO IBIS Education for Development, an organisation supporting indigenous groups, citing political interference in national matters.

Human rights defenders face harassment and threats, including from government officials, undermining their ability to work independently. For example, during the past year, local organisation Asamblea Permanente de Derechos Humanos de Bolivia (Permanent Assembly of Human Rights of Bolivia, APDHB) reported two instances where their offices were broken into by members of the ruling party - Movement for Socialism (MAS), as well as members of government-aligned trade unions.The freedom to form groups and associations has been damaged by new regulations, which require the submission of information explaining how the organisation contributes to Bolivia’s economic and social development. Any government office may request that the Ministry of Autonomy revoke an association’s permit if it performs activities different from those listed in its bylaws, or if the organisation’s legal representative is criminally sanctioned for carrying out activities that “undermine security or public order”. Recently, the representative of institution responsible for monitoring the work of CSOs in the country, warned NGOs that if they do not update their statutes according to the requirements of the law, they will face consequences. 

Peaceful Assembly

Although repression of protest is not a structural problem in Bolivia, there have been recent incidents where police dispersed protests using excessive force and arrested several protesters.

Bolivia’s regulation of public gatherings complies with international standards and, in general, people have ample opportunity to gather in order to express discontent and make demands without legal restriction. Although repression of protest is not a structural problem in Bolivia, there have been recent incidents where police dispersed protests using excessive force and arrested several protesters. For example security forces used violence to disperse demonstrations against the Supreme Court decision that removed limits on re-election in the country’s constitution, thereby allowing current President Evo Morales to run for a fourth term.  

Expression

Independent media and journalists are regularly attacked and operate in a hostile environment. The arrest of a Radio Líder reporter in 2015 for simply covering an anti-government protest, exemplifies this trend. In the context of Bolivia’s media environment, which has a high concentration of private sector ownership, the 2011 telecommunications law sought a more balanced distribution of broadcast licenses among the state, private companies, and local and indigenous communities.

Independent media and journalists are regularly attacked and operate in a hostile environment. Incidents like the defamation campaign against journalist Yadira Peláez, and public vilification of media outlets by government officers exemplify this trend. In addition, the government's use of public advertisement as a tool to censor media have been criticised by international institutions. In the context of Bolivia’s media environment, which has a high concentration of private sector ownership, the 2011 telecommunications law sought a more balanced distribution of broadcast licenses among the state, private companies, and local and indigenous communities. However, the legislation has been criticised as it falls short of international standards for the protection of freedom of expression.

The Law against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination includes a number of provisions which are vague and restrict freedom of expression, and which could potentially lead to self-censorship. Although a constitutionally recognised right, there is no national law ensuring public access to information held by government bodies, and requests for information are typically denied or delayed.