Miami (September 11, 2008)—The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today condemned threats made against journalists in La Paz and attacks by opposition groups on state-owned Radio Patria Nueva radio station and Canal 7 television channel in Santa Cruz, Bolivia as it called on the government to take steps to protect news media and allow them to fulfill their role as reporters.
On September 9, members of the Santa Cruz Youth Union -- an organization that opposes the government of President Evo Morales -- broke into the two buildings and destroyed equipment while wielding sticks, rocks and knives.
“The state of freedom of the press in Bolivia has been rapidly deteriorating and now we are concerned at the constant attacks on news media and journalists from both sides of the political spectrum that are driven by the polarization and antagonism between the groups” declared the chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Gonzalo Marroquín.
Marroquín, editor of the Guatemala City, Guatemala, newspaper Prensa Libre, added, “It is urgent that the appropriate steps be taken to ensure that the press can do its work free of pressure or fear.” He went on to point out that “there is another dark and dangerous cloud hanging over freedom of the press in Bolivia, and that is the reform of the constitution that could limit the right of free expression.”
Local media reported that the attacks in Santa Cruz arose from a demand by opposition groups for reimbursement of a gasoline tax and rejection of the government-called referendum to ratify the constitution on January 25 next year.
The same day they attacked the media offices, the Santa Cruz Youth Union also stormed the offices of the local tax collector, the National Agrarian Reform Institute and National Telecommunications Corporation. Protests were also reported in other cities, where a total of 30 people were said to have been injured.
The following day, September 10, insults were hurled at reporters, cameramen and photographers working for Canal 2 Unitel television in the Bolivian capital, La Paz, by members of the pro-government Popular Civic Committee who threatened to burn down the TV station, calling it “a liar.”