Civil society welcomes repeal of potentially restrictive Criminal Code

Civil society in Bolivia welcomed President Evo Morales' decision in January 2018 to repeal the Criminal Code, which had caused widespread public discontent, strikes and protests described in the section below on Peaceful Assembly and in the previous Monitor update. Concerns included articles that would have penalised actions to hold public officials accountable and the use of public spaces. Journalists were also concerned about the potential threat it would have had on their work and their ability to protect themselves and their sources.

Peaceful Assembly

As previously reported on the Monitor, doctors and medical students took to the streets in November 2017 to protest changes to the Criminal Code that would increase their liability as health care practitioners. The protests continued into December, with one taking place on the 22nd where 17 people were injured from police repression. On 28th December, during a subsequent protest when police dispersed the crowds in the town of Puerto Paila, Rosaly Bellon died from the effects of the tear gas, which caused her to faint and hit her head, and later caused a stroke. Five people were arrested during that protest. On 24th January 2018, the government and the health sector signed an agreement to end the strike and protests that had lasted 47 days.

The transportation sector started a national strike on 8th January 2018 with several blockades of major roads. In addition, on 11th January, a massive protest took place in La Paz against the Dakar Rally and to demand exemption from provisions in the Criminal Code. Citizens reported violent repression by security forces and six people were arrested. A group of demonstrators sought protection in a nearby church, but the officers forced their way in and attacked at least 30 people in hiding with tear gas and other excessive use of force. 

Expression

The Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) expressed its concern over a new decision by President Morales that would require private and public media companies to disseminate government messages on child abuse. Even though the decision concerns a legitimate issue, IAPA is worried about the level of control the government will exercise over content and that it could potentially threaten the autonomy of private media.

On 31st December 2017, Asociación Nacional de la Prensa de Bolivia (National Press Association of Bolivia) condemned the decision of seven TV channels and 12 radio stations not to broadcast two messages from protesting health workers in which they expressed their demands regarding the Criminal Code (please see section on Peaceful Assembly). The media outlets reportedly decided against broadcasting, alleging that the protesters' messages were aggressive in nature. 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published a statement on 1st February 2018 regarding a defamation campaign against journalist Yadira Peláez. In December 2016, Peláez filed a report against Carlos Flores, director of Channel 7 TV, over a case of sexual harassment. In response, Flores filed a lawsuit against Peláez, and since then the journalist has been prevented from entering public institutions and accessing public information. In its statement, RSF declared that:

Instead of resorting to these bizarre methods and to further harassing a journalist who was already harassed, the Bolivian authorities should use this case to start a debate about the role of women in Bolivia’s media and to establish procedures for protecting and developing the work of women journalists”.