Journalist arrested for selling videos critical of Bolivian president

Journalist Richard Romero was arrested July 18 in La Paz, Bolivia for allegedly committing “desacato” or “disrespect” by selling videos of a documentary he made that offended President Evo Morales, Los Tiempos reports.

“Union Dictatorship” shows residents of the central province of Chapare denouncing intimidation and harassment by members of coca worker unions, where Morales began his political career. “In the operation there was evidence that [Romero] was selling DVDs with the title 'union dictatorship,' which contained content that goes against the dignity of president Evo Morales,” said prosecutor Fernando Cabrera, quoted by Eju.tv

While the Association of La Paz Journalists (APLP) criticized the arrest, organization representative Antonio Vargas wanted to ensure that the documentary followed proper ethical standards. “We are not nor will we ever be in favor of material that libels or defames any individual, especially the president,” Vargas said, quoted by Los Tiempos.

However, in an editorial for Eju.tv, Emilio Martínez wrote that “Romero made no statements in the documentary that could be considered…‘desacato,’ it is simply a compilation of testimonies….The journalist's imprisonment is a symptom of waning press freedom and the country’s increasingly antidemocratic climate. The criminalization of alleged ‘crimes of opinion’ is an old touchstone of authoritarian regimes.”

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.