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Mayor of La Paz initiates legal action against magazine, police use violence to suppress protest march by journalists

(IPYS/IFEX) - On 3 September 2009, Nelson Vila Santos, the editor of the bi-monthly "Hora 25" magazine, reported that La Paz's mayor, Juan del Granado, has initiated legal proceedings against the magazine, accusing it of "insult to authorities" (desacato).

Vila said the lawsuit was filed after an August article published in the magazine stated that the position of "executive secretary" in the La Paz municipal government is illegal and could lead to issues regarding corruption. Vila noted that the article was based on reports issued by Congress and the Comptroller General's Office. The magazine offered the mayor a space in which to reply, but he opted instead to file a lawsuit.

Vila said he hopes the case will be heard by the Press Tribunal because, if not, it would set a bad precedent for freedom of expression.

The municipality's lawyer, Fernando Velásquez, explained that the lawsuit was filed in the regular court system against the magazine's editor-in-chief, Mirko Orgaz, the editors of the article in question and opposition city councillor Hernán Paredes, who allegedly provided the information to the magazine. Velásquez said there were "defamatory elements" in the article. He also added that if the case does not go ahead in the regular court system, they will turn to the Press Tribunal.

In a separate but related incident, also on 3 September, officers from the Bolivian police force used violence to suppress a protest march by journalists that was taking place in La Paz's Murillo Square, where the Presidential Palace and the National Congress are located.

Boris Quisbert, the executive secretary of the La Paz Press Workers' Federation (FTPLP), reported that the journalists had only marched along one side of the square when the demonstration was suppressed by the police. Vila, who participated in the march, was hit in the face with a noxious gas and Gonzalo Pérez was kicked in the legs.

The journalists organised the march in defence of freedom of expression to protest against the dismissal of 37 journalists from the Canal 18 Católica de Televisión television station, as well as to demand an investigation into an attack on a Canal 21 Gigavisión television station camera operator and to call for the case against "Hora 25" to be heard by the Press Tribunal rather than in the regular court system.

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