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Bolivian reporters flee to Brazil, claiming officials ordered warrants for their arrest

Two Bolivian journalists were forced to flee to Brazil after suffering legal harassment by public officials on Oct. 13, reported the newspaper Opinión. The reporters from Cobija, capital of the northern department of Pando, claimed that officials with the department Prosecutor's office attempted to arrest them, according to the newspaper.

Journalist Wilson García Mérida and manager of the newspaper Sol de Pando, Silvia Antelo, sent a letter to Minister of Communication Amanda Dávila requesting constitutional guarantees to continue their reporting, said the newspaper La Razón. In their letter, the reporters held the Minister of the Presidency and the governor of Pando responsible if anything happened to them. The journalists claimed that the officials were the source of the "attacks we continue to suffer," added the newspaper.

The reporters met in Cobija to distribute copies of their newspaper, published every two weeks, when they realized they were being followed. That night, supposed officials with the prosecutor's office tried to evict them from their hotel, reported the website Erbol. While the journalists were unsure what motivated the arrest warrants, they believed it had to do with the publication of corruption allegations involving the minister and the governor, according to the website.

On Thursday, Oct. 18, Minister Dávila assured that the governor would provide guarantees for García to continue reporting but the journalist told La Razón he would continue editing the newspaper from across the border in Brazil.

The incident has attracted attention from several press organizations. On Saturday, Oct. 20, Reporters Without Borders (RSF in French) sent a letter to Minister Dávila expressing its concern for the reporters' situation and requesting guarantees for their reporting in Bolivia, according to the website Los Tiempos. RSF noted that the publication has suffered attacks in the past, including the seizure of 2,000 copies carrying an article on local corruption, added the website.

Carlos Lauría, Americas coordinator for the Committee to the Protect Journalists, condemned the harassment by officials and said that authorities in Pando "should halt the harassment immediately and allow the paper to circulate freely," according to the group's website.

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.

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