Journalists continue to be subject to attacks and harassment
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.
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.
Este es el anuncio de un proceso penal para amedrentar a los periodistas. Nuestra nota sobre ENTEL es correcta y está plenamente sustentada. https://t.co/eHl6XXTYUQ— Raul Peñaranda U. (@RaulPenaranda1) January 3, 2019