Restrictions on freedom of expression in Bolivia

Expression

On 8th January 2020, former Minister of Communication, Roxana Lizárraga said that Radio Kawsachun Coca was not fulfilling its role as an Indigenous Peoples radio (RPO) station to educate and inform. According to news outlet Página Siete, Lizárraga accused the station of broadcasting “seditious voices that continue to call for confrontation”. While she pointed out that the government had not stopped the station from operating, Lizárraga also said there are limits to freedom of expression. Members of some community radio stations have claimed that, during the political crisis, they have been attacked and forced to suspend their work. Government representatives denied claims that these stations have been censored but argued that many RPOs used to simply re-broadcast government-sponsored content and continue to incite violence. On 9th January 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ (IACHR) Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Edison Lanza, said on twitter: “The ‘limits’ proposed by the Minister of Communications of Bolivia on radio stations must be compatible with the broad protection of freedom of expression under the American Convention”.

On 14th January 2020, Bolivia’s Asociación Nacional de la Prensa (National Press Association – ANP) denounced that self-styled civilian "resistance groups" have restricted journalistic work in areas of La Paz. These groups have organised vigils in front of the Embassy of Mexico, where many Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS) supporters have taken refuge, and at the house of former minister Carlos Romero. According to ANP, on 9th and 10th January 2020, members of the group confiscated mobile phones and cameras from journalists and onlookers, and forbade journalists from taking photos from some areas. According to ANP, reporters also denounced that police in the area stood by while such harassment took place. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Edison Lanza, called on the Bolivian government to protect the work of journalists and sanction attacks against them.

On 6th February 2020, the Public Prosecutor’s Office announced it would request the preventive detention of Gustavo Torrico, a politician of Evo Morales’ Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS), because of declarations made on television on 20th October 2019. Torrico is accused of inciting violence, terrorism and sedition for comments made after the general elections, in which he reportedly said the MAS government would defend itself and asked Bolivian mothers if they were willing to sacrifice their children during the protests. Torrico told press outlets that Bolivia punishes freedom of expression and said he did not receive notification to present his defence statement. Referring to this case, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Diego García-Sayán, expressed concern about the use of judicial institutions for political persecution in Bolivia.

Peaceful Assembly

Between 16th and 24th January 2020, Bolivia’s interim government sent the military to the streets to maintain public order during demonstrations scheduled around the country’s Plurinational State Day on 22nd January 2020. The Office of the Ombudsman published a statement expressing concern with the deployment because similar interventions in November 2019 resulted in several people being killed in Senkata and Sacaba. The Ombudsman’s Office urged the government to respect the political and civil rights of the population. In another statement, the Ombudsman called on civil society groups to make every effort to keep protests peaceful, referring to civilian groups which have acted violently in the context of the political crisis.