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Journalists attacked; media freedom deteriorates

Bolivian President Morales has won re-election; press freedom is on the decline.
Bolivian President Morales has won re-election; press freedom is on the decline.

via IPI

Press freedom has deteriorated in Bolivia since President Evo Morales came to power in 2005; his insults against the media are often followed up with supporters assaulting journalists, alleges the International Press Institute (IPI). Morales's re-election on 6 December means opposition critics and journalists will continue to be under threat, reports IPI.

On 26 November two journalists were "dragged by the hair, beaten and locked in a cell for three hours" by police, reports the Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS).

Shirley Flores and Karen Paola Rueda, news programme producers for the PAT television network, were waiting in their car outside the home of a kidnapping victim when they were attacked by police from an elite squadron, reports IPYS.

Later, on 29 November, another PAT television journalist, Paola Maella, was kidnapped by two unidentified men, locked up for at least nine hours, and then abandoned on the edge of her hometown of Santa Cruz, reports IPI. On 27 November, Maella was approached by a man and asked if she worked for PAT. When she said she did, the man tried to stab her in the face with a knife. Maella was investigating the police attack on her colleagues, Flores and Rueda.

"The government has to investigate the causes of this kidnapping," Juan Javier Zeballos, executive director of Asociación Nacional de Prensa (National Press Association, or ANP) told IPI. "It's highly suspicious that a journalist covering an assault by the police is attacked, and then abducted."

In response to a question from IPI about the impact of the elections, Zeballos said, "The government doesn't understand, or doesn't want to understand, that the media's fundamental job is to inspect the powers of state."

According to the ANP director, the government uses state media to attack private media and sees independent media as an opposition mouthpiece to be quashed. Members of state media are also attacked by opposition political groups.

Morales has accused the media of being the "enemy" and his increasingly authoritarian stance has created self-censorship, says IPI. The government has started a legal case against a newspaper that published a report critical of the state written by a peasant organisation. Another paper pulled the same report prior to publication for fear of reprisals.

Under Morales's watch, ANP has reported 123 physical attacks on journalists since August 2007, eight bomb attacks on media property, 20 cases of journalists being held hostage, and one murder. Perpetrators of these attacks have not been brought to justice in this nascent culture of impunity.

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