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One journalist in hospital, several others also injured in assaults on press covering demonstrations in Santa Cruz

(IPYS/IFEX) - Between 15 and 19 August 2008, approximately ten reporters, including journalists, camera operators and photographers, were attacked in several different locations in Santa Cruz, eastern Bolivia, by policemen and government and opposition supporters.

On 15 August, when a demonstration by handicapped people ended in a clash between civilians and policemen, journalists Wilson Castillo, of the PAT television network, and Rubén Darío Méndez, of the newspaper "El Deber", were assaulted by the police.

Castillo said that while he was covering the conflict, policemen knocked him to the ground and hit him several times, causing multiple bruises. Méndez was hit in the ribs by two uniformed men who wanted to stop him from interviewing one of the authorities.

During the same incident, camera operators Félix Vargas and Diego Soria, of television stations Gigavisión and Unitel, respectively, suffered injuries to their hands caused by the impact of teargas canisters launched by the police. Journalist Silvia Gómez and camera operator Jorge Alvis, of the PAT television network, passed out because of the teargas.

No authority from either the departmental or the national police forces has explained the reasons for the violence against the journalists in Santa Cruz.

On 16 August, Juan Carlos Thames, a camera operator for the state-run television station Televisión Boliviana, was beaten by a group of people during a march that was organized by the governor of Santa Cruz.

According to Thames, the mob recognized he was state television station journalist, attacked him and hit him when he was covering the march organized by the governor, an opponent of the national government. The journalist and the television station's administrator suffered multiple bruises on different parts of their bodies.

On 19 August Bolivisión television network journalist Enyer Mendoza and camera operator Remberto Arauz were attacked by a mob when they were covering a civic strike in Santa Cruz and another four regions, organized to pressure the national government to return the financial resources that the strikers believe correspond to their departments because of the Direct Tax to Hydrocarbon (IDH).

The incident took place in the Plan Tres Mil neighborhood, in the outskirts of Santa Cruz, when a group of government supporters attacked them as they sat inside their vehicle.

Mendoza told the National Journalists' Association (Asociación Nacional de Periodistas, ANP) that several people approached the vehicle, threatened them with knives and guns, destroyed their windshield and tires and forced them to get out.

Arauz was then attacked by a score of people who beat him and took his video camera from him. He was admitted into hospital where he remains with serious injuries. Cameraman Miguel Ángel Flores, of the ATB television network, was attacked during the same incident.

Also, Megavisión television station journalist José Luis Ledezma and its camera operator Iver Justiniano, and the photographer Hilario Muñoz, of the newspaper "El Mundo", were attacked with stones. The correspondent of the APG news agency, Javier Mamani, was hit with a stick by an unidentified person. These attacks were instigated by followers of the Movement towards Socialism (MAS).

The executive secretary of Santa Cruz's Federation of Press Workers' Unions (Federación Sindical de Trabajadores de la Prensa de Santa Cruz), Hernán Cabrera Maraz, announced that he will file a formal complaint with the Public Prosecutor. Organizations such as the ANP and associated journalists have publicly condemned the violence against these reporters.

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