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Two journalists narrowly escape lynching in Cochabamba

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has voiced alarm after privately-owned television station Red Bolivisión's reporter, Limberth Sánchez, and cameraman, Edson Jiménez, who were covering a village riot that ended in the lynching of three police officers, narrowly escaped the same fate themselves.

The two had started to film a demonstration on 26 February 2008 by around 300 enraged villagers in Epizana, Cochabamba department in central Bolivia. The demonstration turned into a riot as the police officers tried to arrest three suspected criminals and were turned on and murdered by the mob.

A drunken demonstrator spotted the journalists and urged the mob to attack them as well. "They kicked us and hit us with sticks, but we managed to escape," Sánchez told the media. Jiménez's camera was seized from him. Meanwhile the enraged villagers killed two police officers by hanging and beat the third to death. Barricades erected by the rioters prevented security forces sent to the village from getting through.

"Two journalists who were only doing their job, came very close to death, against a background of particularly appalling violence," RSF said. "These incidents of mob violence are especially dangerous for press freedom, when one knows that Bolivian journalists frequently paid the price of political violence which shook the country in 2007 and which could recur at any time. We want the investigation into the Epizana tragedy to also lead to the arrest of the attackers of Limberth Sánchez and Edson Jiménez."

The Bolivian police, who are lowly-paid, badly equipped, often corrupt and guilty of misuse of authority, are often the target of collective reprisals of so-called "mob justice" in rural areas, as happened in Epizana.

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