Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about physical attacks on journalists with the El Mundo regional daily and the Red Uno TV station on 28 August in the eastern city of Santa Cruz during a demonstration by market traders protesting against a general strike by regional opponents of President Evo Morales’ central government.
Journalists from the Spanish news agency EFE and Canal 7 TVB television were also threatened during the protest.
“Press freedom is increasingly at risk from Bolivia’s political unrest, especially in the pro-autonomy department of Santa Cruz, where petrol bombs were thrown at a public TV station last year,” the organisation said. “Neither public nor privately-owned media should be a target of demonstrations. We urge central and regional governments to guarantee the basic constitutional right to report the news by reining in their supporters.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “This situation is all the more regrettable as Bolivia has until now had been one of the better countries in Latin American as regards respect for press freedom.”
When a reporter and photographer from El Mundo arrived at the scene of the protest, stones were thrown at their car by demonstrators and traders, although they identified themselves as journalists. Sticks were also used to smash the windows of the car, injuring the driver. Photographer Hilario Muñoz was beaten about the head and face when he tried to calm the traders down. Six policemen who were at the scene were unable to protect him from his assailants.
The traders were reportedly seeking revenge for the damage done to their market stands the day before by members of the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista, an anti-Morales movement that backed the strike. The attack on the El Mundo car was apparently triggered by the fact that it was displaying the flag of Santa Cruz department, which is ruled by Morales opponents. The 24-hour strike was held in six of Bolivia’s nine departments.
Canal 7 TVB and Red Uno TV crews were also the target of threats and stone-throwing by the demonstrators, while strike supporters punctured the tires of an EFE photographer’s motor-cycle.