Bolivian journalist asks the IACHR for protection from threats from government

In the face of threats from government officials and shortly after Juan Ramón Quintana, the Minister of the Presidency of Bolivia, labeled her as part of a “cartel of lies,” journalist Amalia Pando requested protection for her journalistic work before the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) through a precautionary measure, according to news agency EFE.

On May 19, news outlets Página Siete, El Deber, Agencia de Noticias Fides (ANF) and radio network Erbol were called liars by Quintana. Besides Pando, the government official also accused journalists Andrés Gómez, Carlos Valverde and Raúl Peñaranda of destabilizing the country and working against the government of President Evo Morales, ANF reported.

Pando also requested protection from the CIDH for radio program coordinator Roxana Lizárraga and for Valverde, according to ANF.

I have asked for protection in my journalistic work, I do not know if they will give it, I do not know if they grant it, but I believe that it is a right that I have before the chain of government threats, threats to prosecute us and make us prisoners,” Pando said on June 21 on a Youtube channel of the news radio program of political analysis that she hosts, Cabildeo.

In February 2016, Valverde was the first journalist to publish a birth certificate of an alleged son of Morales with his former partner Gabriela Zapata.

The journalist denounced alleged influence peddling by Morales for favoring the Bolivian branch of the Chinese company CAMC Engineering Co. LTD, while Zapata was commercial manager, with at least five State contracts valued at more than US $500 million, according to El Deber.

For fear of being imprisoned, television presenter Valverde left the country. However, he said he will continue to report about the case of Zapata from where he is.

Various media outlets, like the news site Página Siete, reported that on June 15, Vice President Álvaro García Linera threatened to jail opponents, lawyers and the media, calling them “political-media mafia”, “for conspiring” against Morales in attempt to link him to the case of businesswoman Zapata.

Concerning language being used against the press, journalist Rául Peñaranda, general editor of ANF, told the Knight Center: "The escalation in rhetoric is so serious that even the word 'dog' was used to identify journalists critical of the [government].”

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) also called attention to the harsh language being used by the government.

“We deeply condemn the fact that the government is always seeking to stigmatize the press, labeling it a ‘cartel,’ as if it were a gang of delinquents, thus justifying criminal charges which are completely out of line with what the Press Law currently in effect in the country stipulates and with the inter-American principles on press freedom,” said Claudio Paolillo of the IAPA.

In Peñaranda’s opinion, the quality of democracy “has declined significantly” in Bolivia.

Apart from the “verbal aggressions,” Peñaranda said, the strategy of harassment of independent media by the government has other sides. He said that media with an editorial line sympathetic with the government receive “million dollar government advertising contracts each year,” in contrast to what happens with media critical of the government, which receive illegal fines from different government entities.

For the government, the information that connects Morales with the Zapata case led to his defeat in a February 21 referendum in which Morales tried to amend the constitution in order to be able to return as presidential candidate in 2019, according to EFE.

In this regard, Pando said that for the government, any investigation about the theme “is a crime,” because for the State, “freedom of expression is a crime,” EFE reported.

Meanwhile, Peñaranda told the Knight Center that the government’s intimidation strategy towards the media and independent journalists is to “prepare ground” to convene another referendum this year that will empower Morales to apply for a fourth term.

Another journalist who recently left Bolivia was Wilson García Mérida, director of newspaper Sol de Pando, after Quintana filed a complaint against him for sedition.

Pando, according to El País On Line, said that she will not leave the country, but that she feels threatened like Wilson García and Carlos Valverde, and like “many journalists that report [news] everyday under threat of being arrested.”

On the other hand, the program that Pando hosts also reported that the directors of newspaper Página Siete and of ANF, Juan Carlos Salazar and Sergio Montes, respectively, as well as journalists Andrés Gómez and Raúl Peñaranda met with Denise Racicot, a senior commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations in the city of La Paz.

According to the program, Racicot received a letter for the group of journalists and directors requesting that a Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression be sent to Bolivia to check in situ the actions of intimidation and various pressures that the State is exercising against the independent press in the country.

“Threatened journalists continue to work in Bolivia for a more democratic and pluralistic society,” Peñaranda emphasized to the Knight Center, adding that they maintain their position of defending freedom of expression and of the press.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.