Bolivia - Authorities urged to make protecting journalists a priority after attacks on media by pro-government activists



    MONTREAL, Oct. 31 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders calls on the
government and judicial authorities to take action in response to two series
of physical attacks by members of the Popular Civic Committee - a radical
group that claims to support the government - against journalists with
privately-owned and community media in La Paz on 28 and 29 October.
Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera yesterday condemned the violence and
promised an investigation.
    "In op-ed pieces on 21 October in the national dailies La Razon
    and La Prensa, we strongly condemned the racism and calls for the
assassination of President Evo Morales voiced by anti-government radicals and
certain privately-owned media," Reporters Without Borders said. "Justice must
also be applied to activists claiming to support the government who incite
hatred against journalists.
    "The passivity shown by the police during these attacks on the press in
unacceptable and the investigation promised by the vice-president must shed
light on this point. Similarly, it is unacceptable that Popular Civic
Committee leader Adolfo Cerrudo, who has been charged several times for
violence against journalists, is carrying on as before and is violating the
terms of the court control under which he was placed. We hope he will be sent
back to prison and tried, just as we hope that pro-autonomy supporters will be
tried for their attacks on the state media.
    "Given the political agreements reached by the government and main
opposition parties with a view to holding a constitutional referendum on 25
January 2009, we urge President Morales and the relevant government minister
to adopt concrete measures to protect the media and to quickly hold talks with
representatives of the journalism profession."
    On 29 October, some 200 Popular Civic Committee members attacked a dozen
journalists who were outside San Pedro prison for the arrival of members of a
commission from the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) to question the
detained former governor of the northwestern department of Pando, Leopoldo
Fernandez, about a massacre of 15 indigenous peasants on 11 September, with
which he has been charged.
    Members of the "Red Ponchos" collective began by hitting the journalists
with leather lashes. The attack was intensified when journalists from TV
stations ATB and Red Uno set up their equipment, Reporters Without Borders was
told by Maria Luisa Callejas of the daily La Prensa, who was herself attacked.
    "If you do not leave, we will kick you out of here," several of the
assailants shouted, one of whom turned out to be Cerrudo, the Popular Civic
Committee's leader. Callejas said: "At no point did the police step in to
disperse our assailants. They just tried to keep us at a distance." That did
not suffice to protect the journalists. The protesters charged them and in the
ensuing melee, Jonnatan Condori of Catholic Church-affiliated Radio Erbol and
Javier Alanota of ATB were badly beaten.
    There was also violence the day before outside the prison. Popular Civic
Committee members led by Edgar Mora attacked four journalists who had come to
cover their protest against the former Pando governor's possible transfer to
Sucre. Reporter Roxana Lizarraga and cameraman Juan Carlos Vera of
privately-owned TV station Unitel, Nicolas Sanabria of privately-owned Radio
Fides and Gustavo Arévalo of ATB were all physically attacked and accused of
being "paid by Leopoldo Fernandez." Some of them were forced to suspend their
live transmission.
    Already implicated in several cases of violence against the media in La
Paz (see 25 July release), Cerrudo threatened to rape a woman reporter with La
Razon in March. Placed under house arrest by judge Virginia Crespo, he managed
to obtain a conditional release on 23 July by giving a written undertaking not
to attack the media any more.

    Bolivia was ranked 115th out of 173 countries in the press freedom index
issued this month by Reporters Without Borders, 47 places lower than its
ranking in last year's index. This dramatic fall was due to the frequency of
physical attacks on the media and the media's polarisation by 10 months of
political crisis.




For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, Executive Director,
Reporters Without Borders Canada, (514) 521-4111, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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