Bolivian media and journalists attacked at newsrooms and while covering social protests during political crisis

In Bolivia, several media outlets and journalists have found it necessary to suspend their work in the face of the insecure environment that prevails in the country after three weeks of social demonstrations.

pProtests in La Paz, Bolivia after allegations of electoral fraud (Paulo Fabre [CC BY-SA 4.0]).

Looting and fires at facilities and the media outlets’ actual antennae increased after Evo Morales' resignation of the presidency on Nov. 10, according to several national and international media outlets.

The Ombudsman's Office of the Plurinational State of Bolivia reported on its website that social protests have so far left three dead and more than 430 injured, including eight journalists. Most of the attacks were committed by civil agents, according to the institution.

The media outlets that are not functioning normally or that are off air and off line are Unitel, a TV channel that was set on fire; Red Uno de TV, which is broadcasting from Santa Cruz after temporarily closing its offices in La Paz; Radio Éxito, whose antenna was affected after attacks; and the newspaper Página Siete, as reported by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). State media Bolivia TV and Radio Patria Nueva, of La Paz, suspended their broadcasts and evacuated their employees as security measures, it said.

The massive wave of social protests across the country began amidst accusations of electoral fraud after learning the results of the Oct. 20 presidential elections in which Morales again was elected, after 14 years in power. After giving up his current term, which would have ended on Jan. 22, 2020, Morales traveled to Mexico with political asylum on Nov. 11.

Raúl Peñaranda, Bolivian journalist and director of Brújula Digital, told the Knight Center that there are several media “that have been forced to close, they’ve also burned the antennae of channels that are in El Alto, in La Paz, and they have pressured so that the newsrooms of two channels, and at least one radio station and one newspaper, aren’t working, because they feared being assaulted by this mob.”

Página Siete evacuated its staff on Nov. 10 for fear of an invasion and temporarily suspended the circulation of its newspaper, Peñaranda said. “Among the protesters there are groups that previously sympathized or are adherents of Morales, so their protest of resignation is to cause looting, vandalism, and it has been strong. (...) Journalists are a ‘target,’” he added.

The situation in Bolivia, according to a statement from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), has been aggravated by “political violence” that included plundering, harassment, fires of buses, municipal buildings and attacks on the homes of private people and authorities, such as that of now former president Morales.

The house of journalist Casimira Lema, of TVU, a university channel critical of the government, was set on fire and looted, Infobae reported.

The Ombudsman demanded that the public prosecutor and the police investigate the burning of homes of journalists, former authorities, leaders of social and civic mobilizations and called for the immediate cessation of persecution and harassment.

In addition to Página Siete, LosTiempos and Opinión, newspapers from Cochabamba, decided not to publish their editions on Tuesday, Nov. 11 due to threats of looting and to safeguard the security of their journalists, the news agency Fides (ANF) of Bolivia reported via Twitter.

Days ago, the National Press Association of Bolivia (ANP-Diarios) condemned the physical aggressions of followers of the Movement for Socialism (MAS), of Morales, against eight journalists from the newspapers El Deber, Página Siete, La Patria, Urgentebo and the private channels Unitel, ATB and the radio station Líder 97. On Nov. 5, these media covered the capture of the international airport of El Alto that had been taken by militants of the former president's party.

"The attacks violate free expression, freedom of the press, the right to movement and the Law against discrimination," the ANP said.

CPJ Central America and South America program coordinator Natalie Southwick said on the organization's website, “In this moment of political upheaval, it is absolutely vital that the people of Bolivia have access to a full range of information.”

The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the IACHR, Edison Lanza, said on Twitter that when newspapers do not circulate in a country, the situation "is serious." “In Bolivia, the force of the rule of law was weakened and freedom of the press is affected. It is imperative that journalistic work be guaranteed for the return to democratic institutions,” he said.

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