Freedom of expression organizations criticize Bolivian president’s criminal defamation suit against journalist

  • By Guest
  • August 10, 2016

By Yenibel Ruiz

Freedom of expression organizations criticized the criminal defamation lawsuit that Bolivian President Evo Morales filed against journalist Humberto Vacaflor, winner of the 2016 Freedom Award from the National Association of Bolivian Journalists.

According to a press release from the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), on July 4, Vacaflor said that in 2000, Morales, a congressman and leader of coca farmers at the time, had been an intellectual author of the murder of a policeman and his wife in zone known as The Chapare. Vacaflor made the statements while on the program “Encontrados” of journalist Gonzalo Rivera, according to Página Siete.

“The terrible thing is that the cocaleros [coca leaf grower] killed a couple by order of Evo Morales,” Vacaflor said when interviewed on the television program,” according to Erbol digital.

The murder of police officer David Andrade and his wife Graciela Alfaro was executed in the middle of a demonstration that blocked routes in The Chapare region. However, in 2002, Morales was excluded from any liability in the case of the Andrades, according to Erbol.

The process completely excluded any liability for citizen Evo Morales Ayma, because there was no evidence to show that the current president had participated in those events,” said government minister Carlos Romero, Erbol digital reported.

However, on August 3, a former senator and former advisor to Morales, Filemón Escobar, said in an interview on radio Líder that Morales was present at the meeting where the murder was decided on, according to Enlacesbolivia.net.

Escobar was asked if Evo was there. Escobar responded: “he chaired the meeting, with Margarita Terán, the most radical,” the site explained.

The IAPA called Morales’ lawsuit “intimidation.”

Claudio Portillo, chairman of IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, said in a release “This is not the first time that we see those in power exceeding their limits in the use of that power with the intention of harassing, limiting information of public interest and punishing critical journalists.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) urged Morales to abandon the criminal complaint against Vacaflor because “it could have a chilling effect on press freedom in the country.”

“Rather than engaging in petty lawsuits, President Evo Morales should work with the Bolivian legislature to abolish all criminal penalties for defamation,” said CPJ Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch.

According to EFE, the judge hearing the case decided to proceed with the preparation of the trial against the journalist who did not appear at the conciliation hearing with Morales’ lawyers.

Vacaflor said in an interview with CPJ that he was not at the hearing because he was afraid of being detained and wanted to be tried before a court responsible for cases involving journalists.

The Association of Journalists of La Paz (APLP) issued a statement demanding that Vacaflor’s case be handled in a Court of the Press as indicated in article 28 of Bolivia’s current Press Law, according to El Diario Política.

“That article says that ‘public officials who were attacked by the press, can only complain before the Jury’ of the Press,” the publication reported.

On July 29, Morales said on Twitter, “Journalism of defamation is NOT freedom of expression. Journalistic injuria (defamation) is the poison that damages the media.”

Vacaflor, according to Página Siete, reaffirmed his statements about the Bolivian president and supported his statements with testimonies from people who were present at the events and other news stories.

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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