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IPI concerned about safety after 12 journalists receive death threats

(IPI/IFEX) - Vienna, 4 October 2011 - Mónica Oblitas is in danger. She feels lost, uneasy. Everything has changed for this Bolivian journalist since she published, in La Prensa newspaper, an investigative report about alleged corruption in the Bolivian Forensic Research Institute. She has received anonymous threatening phone calls, text messages and emails; she and her son have been followed and the windows of her apartment were shattered.

Oblitas has filed legal complaints and gone to the media, but to no avail, because of what she believes is fear on the part of her colleagues and the inefficiency of the judicial system. In September, Oblitas began contacting international organisations for help and support.

Although Oblitas appears to be the only Bolivian journalist receiving death threats at the moment, her case is not an exception in Latin America. Just in the last month, 11 other journalists have reported death threats. The number is alarming - but is only a snapshot of a broader picture. The International Press Institute (IPI) is concerned about the fact that nine of the reported death threats in the last month allegedly stemmed directly or indirectly from the local authorities. The other three were allegedly related to drug dealers.

For the report that apparently prompted the death threat, Oblitas, seeking to confirm allegations of corruption centering around the Bolivian Forensic Institute, posed as an ordinary citizen and asked the coroner of the Bolivian capital La Paz to provide a medical certificate stating that she had been assaulted. Without a medical examination, and in return for a fee, the doctor issued the requested document - which detailed non-existent injuries. The journalist filmed the encounter with a hidden camera and her article appeared on the front page of the Sunday edition of La Prensa. The case was also made public in a radio program.

The story led to a legal investigation in May, but no arrests have been made. Meanwhile, the threats have continued. Callers have told Oblitas they will shoot her and break her legs, and that her days are numbered. One text message read: "You like playing with forensics. The next case will be yours." Another described the clothing her son was wearing on a particular day at university. By 13 September, she had received over 20 death threats, but the number has increased in the last two weeks, Oblitas told IPI.

"I am very scared, but not sorry," she said. "These threats are not going to make me stop investigating who is behind all this. I am sure it is someone with a lot of power in the government. Intimidation against journalists demonstrates the extent of the long chain of corruption from judges to forensics."

Oblitas' son now lives with a family member and Oblitas is still considering options to better ensure their safety.

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