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Police vehicle crashes into television news team's car, officers destroy camera

(IPYS/IFEX) - On 3 September 2009, a police vehicle intentionally crashed into a car carrying a Unitel television network crew. At the time of the incident, the Unitel crew was following the police vehicle, which was accompanying the transfer of a businessman who had been detained in Santa Cruz. Following the crash, journalist Alberto Ruth, camera operator Francisco Cuéllar and their driver were forced to lie down on the ground. The police officers kicked them, destroyed their camera by firing gunshots into it and confiscated their journalistic material.

The journalists said they had received a telephone call telling them about the businessman's detention. They waited at an intersection at the entrance to Santa Cruz and when the vehicles carrying the businessman passed by they began to follow them. When they had gone about 15 kilometres, one of the police vehicles suddenly reversed and crashed into the Unitel crew's vehicle two times. The assault on the Unitel crew members took place after the crash.

The commander of the Santa Cruz police force, Johnny Vargas, explained away the incident by saying that he was not in charge of the operation. Ruth said that he recognised some of the police officers as being from the Interior Ministry (Ministerio de Gobierno). The Interior Ministry's deputy minister, Marcos Farfán, refuted Ruth's accusation and said that regular service police officers participated in the operation. He also announced that an investigation into the incident would be initiated.

Unitel said that, on the same day, Interior Ministry officials in La Paz prevented its journalists from attending a press conference in which judicial director Rubén Gamarra made a statement about the incident. Unitel journalists said that they were originally told that entry to the press conference would be by turns, but then Gamarra himself stated that the television station would not be allowed in as it had already been given preferential treatment when Deputy Minister Farfán issued his statement.

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