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Police officers assault and detain television crew; journalist reports she was kidnapped

(IPYS/IFEX) - On 26 November 2009, Shirley Flores and Karen Paola Rueda, news programme producers for the PAT television network, were intercepted by police officers from an elite squadron. They were dragged by the hair, beaten and locked in a cell for three hours, while their driver, Ismael Montes, was shot in the right leg. The incident took place in the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra while the news crew was covering a story about a kidnapping.

According to a statement issued by PAT, the journalists were waiting outside the home of the kidnapping victim when they were attacked by the police officers, who did not display any identification. The journalists attempted to escape in their vehicle but were pursued by an unmarked vehicle from which shots were fired.

The PAT vehicle had to stop after one of its tires was damaged. The police officers then entered the vehicle, beat the PAT producers and dragged them out by their hair, while their driver was shot in the leg. Flores and Rueda were locked up in separate cells until their release three hours later. Montes was admitted to a hospital.

The PAT senior management publicly demanded sanctions against the police group known as Delta. The journalists filed a complaint for attempted murder and abuse of authority with the District Attorney's Office. The police's national commander, Víctor Hugo Escobar, said the incident was the result of a mistake and announced that an investigation would be initiated.

On 30 November, the Bolivian police in La Paz announced that they had identified two police officers as being responsible for the attack and detention of the PAT news crew. They said that the case against the two officers was being handled internally.

René Sanabria, the president of the Police Disciplinary Tribunal, reported that two members of the Delta police group, whose names and rank he did not reveal, had been accused of attempted homicide and said that there is a possibility they could also be tried in an ordinary tribunal.

IPYS and the National Press Association (ANP) condemn the attack on the PAT news crew and demand harsh sanctions against the officers.

In a separate incident, on 30 November, PAT journalist Paola Maella reported that she was kidnapped by two unidentified men who got into her car when she was in Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Two days earlier, Maella was attacked with a knife after her assailant found out that she worked for PAT.

After the kidnapping, Maella filed a complaint stating that her hands had been tied and she had been locked in a room for nine hours. Her captors, she said, left her in the outskirts of the city. A forensic examination determined that she had suffered no serious physical injuries. The police reported that the case is being investigated.

IPYS and ANP will be following the investigation.

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