Attempted seizure of human rights organisation's office in Bolivia

Association

On 6th February 2017, a group of approximately 30 individuals broke into the office of the human rights organisation, Asamblea Permanente de Derechos Humanos de Bolivia (Permanent Assembly of Human Rights of Bolivia, APDHB). The disruption occurred during a joint press conference with an indigenous confederation on rights violations committed by state-owned companies against indigenous communities in voluntary isolation. The intruders verbally attacked APDHB president, Amparo Carvajal, and demanded that she give them the keys to the organisation's premises. In a public statement, the APDHB reported that the aggressors included well-known members of the ruling party - Movement for Socialism (MAS), as well as members of government-aligned trade unions.

In its 2016 report on Bolivia, Human Rights Watch noted that harassment of human rights defenders (HRDs), including harassment from government officials, is impacting their ability to report on and investigate stories independently. The seriousness of the situation for HRDs was also emphasised in the Bolivian Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2016 by the U.S. Department of State.

Expression

On 25th January 2017, outgoing Minister of the Presidency, Juan Ramón Quintana, gave his last speech in office, in which he criticised the media and invited his successor, René Martínez, to investigate the ethics of media outlets. The President of the National Association of Journalists (ANP) condemned Quintana's statement and emphasised that any investigation of the media should be conducted by the Prosecutor's Office and then presented in a court of law, without interference from the executive branch.

On that same day as the speech, UNESCO launchedreport on media and freedom of opinion and expression in Bolivia to follow up on the recommendations made by the International Programme for the Development of Communication. The report notes the following shortcomings in observing and respecting freedom of expression: the absence of a law regulating access to public information in Bolivia, the government's use of public advertisement as a tool to censor media, and the low level of information and communications technology (ICT) use among journalists in the country.

According to the latest report by the Fundación Nueva Democracia's Bolivian Human Rights Observatory, attacks against media and journalists more than doubled in 2016, with 54 documented cases - compared to 22 in 2015. Censorship as well as verbal and physical violence were among the most common violations against journalists. 

In mid-February, Edwin Huanca, a reporter with the Radio of the Originary Peoples (RPOs) in Achacachi, was attacked by demonstrators while covering a peasants' movement. The Minister of Communications, Gísela López, expressed the government's solidarity with the journalist and condemned the assault, describing it as "an attack against the freedom of information, but above all an attack against life."

Peaceful Assembly

On 20th February 2017, protesting coca growers came up against police aggression when they gathered at the National Assembly Square in La Paz and formed a human fence. Clashes started as police officers tried to remove them from the Square, arresting 40 participants in the process. The protests came to a halt, when the government agreed to begin negotiations with the coca growers, and a final agreement was reached on 23rd February 2017.

In early March 2017, the Prosecutor's Office identified former Police Commander, José Araníbar, as the individual responsible for ordering the use of lethal weapons against miners protesting in August 2016, in which case several lives were lost. A week later, however,  Araníbar's upcoming hearing was suspended till an undetermined time.