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Journalists assaulted, threatened during protest in Santa Cruz department

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has voiced concern about physical attacks on journalists with "El Mundo" regional daily and Red Uno television station that occurred on 28 August 2007 in the eastern department of Santa Cruz. The incident took place during a demonstration by market vendors protesting against a general strike by regional opponents of President Evo Morales's central government.

Journalists from the Spanish news agency EFE and the Canal 7 TVB television station were also threatened during the protest.

"Press freedom is increasingly at risk from Bolivia's political unrest, especially in the pro-autonomy department of Santa Cruz, where petrol bombs were thrown at a public television station last year," the organisation said (see IFEX alerts of 15 December and 12 September 2006). "Neither public nor privately-owned media should be a target of demonstrations. We urge central and regional governments to guarantee the basic constitutional right to report the news by reining in their supporters."

RSF added: "This situation is all the more regrettable as Bolivia had, until now, been one of the better countries in Latin America as regards respect for press freedom."

When an "El Mundo" reporter and a photographer arrived at the scene of the protest, stones were thrown at their car by demonstrators and market vendors, even though they identified themselves as journalists. Sticks were also used to smash the windows of the car, injuring the driver. Photographer Hilario Muñoz was beaten about the head and face when he tried to calm the assailants. Six police officers who were at the scene were unable to protect him.

The assailants were reportedly seeking revenge for the damage done to their market stands the day before by members of the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista, an anti-Morales movement that backed the strike. The attack on the "El Mundo" car was apparently triggered by the fact that it was displaying the flag of Santa Cruz department, which is ruled by Morales's opponents. The 24-hour strike was held in six of Bolivia's nine departments.

Canal 7 TVB and Red Uno crews were also the target of threats and stone-throwing by the demonstrators, while strike supporters punctured the tires of an EFE photographer's motorcycle.

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