CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

Bolivia

Live rating: Obstructed

Last updated on 30.01.2019 at 12:33

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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Journalists continue to be subject to attacks and harassment

Journalists continue to be subject to attacks and harassment

2019 started with accusations made by the Supreme Court of Bolivia during the opening ceremony of the judicial year.

Peaceful Assembly

On 9th December 2018, the police arrested 9 demonstrators who blocked the road that connects the city of Santa Cruz to Beni. The demonstration, part of the 21-F Movement, a group that opposes the candidacy of President Morales for re-election, demanded Evo Morales’ to step-down from power. The detained protesters were released 15 hours later. It was reported that one of them had his ribs broken during the operation.

Two government buildings were burned down on 12th December 2018 during a day of protests in the city of Santa Cruz. The protest, organised by the students of Universidad Autonoma Gabriel Rene Moreno, opposed President Morales candidacy for a new presidential term. Around 6:00 pm hooded individuals came out of the protest and set ablaze the office of the local electoral court and the regional building of the National Telecommunications Company (ENTEL). The government stated that this attack was coordinated by leaders of the opposition. Protesters and staff from the University argued that the government infiltrated people to cause the violence and undermined the objectives of the demonstration. According to press reports, one person wearing a sweater with the 21-F Movement inscription was seen getting into and leaving in a police motorcycle while apparently giving orders to the police officer driving it. This event seems to support the students' argument about the Government infiltrating individuals to cause violence during opposition protests. 

Expression

2019 started with accusations made by the Supreme Court of Bolivia during the opening ceremony of the judicial year. Jose Antonio Revilla, head of the Supreme Court, said that media in Bolivia "manipulates and misrepresents facts". He then asserted that for this reason, the Supreme Court decided to create its own agency, the Judicial News Agency. 

In a separate incident, it was reported that the state-owned Telecommunications Company (ENTEL) announced that it will start legal actions against journalist Raul Peñarada for an article he published reporting irregularities in ENTEL’s hiring procedures. Journalists in the country fear more legal actions especially because 2019 is an electoral year.

Concerns are rising given the recent attacks against journalists covering sports events. On 24th January 2019, one supporter of Blooming, a local football team, attacked the journalist Daniel Zurita. As the journalist explained, the attack might be related to the discussion he had on August 2018 with the team’s President when he posed questions regarding management and finances issues within the team, after which the President threatened him with physical violence. On 22nd January 2019, the sports editor of the journal Los Tiempos was threatened by an anonymous Facebook account, reportedly because the journal published a report on December 2018 reporting the debts a football club had with a former coach.

The journal Opinion was also threatened on 24th January 2019, after reporting an explosion in a local mall. Through WhatsApp messages the journal’s personnel received texts saying that they had until 9 pm of that day to remove that report or they would also be victims of an explosion.

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.