Reporters Without Borders today condemned attacks on journalists during a referendum on autonomy in the northern department of Beni yesterday.
At least two media were targeted for threats and harassment by groups linked to the opposition to the government in La Paz, including the Juvenil Cruceñista Union (UJC), a radical militia that stemmed from the independence movement in Santa Cruz department.
“Armed groups hostile to the government in La Paz are increasingly acting like predators on freedom of information,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “The recent autonomy referendums - in Santa Cruz on 4 May and yesterday in the departments of Pando and Beni - are adding to a climate of political tension in which the press is one of the first to be targeted”.
Clashes between supporters and opponents of autonomy during the consultation process in Beni led to a variety of obstructions of the work of the press. In the department’s capital, Trinidad, members of the UJC systematically harassed special correspondents for state-run Canal 7 television.
One of its journalists, René Martínez, said that the cables on its transmission vehicle were twice cut with machetes. “They managed to interrupt our programme twice this Sunday. Then as we were visiting schools for the vote count, the same youths insulted and threatened us”, he said. “Our cameraman, Edgar Quenallata, had to leave and I was forced to flee on a motorbike”, he told Reporters Without Borders.
Meanwhile, in Riberalta, a group of pro-autonomy thugs chased after another team from Canal 7, forcing them to take refuge in the home of a local resident.
Community, indigenous and peasant media, regularly targeted for racist violence by militia hostile to President Evo Morales, were not spared during the referendum violence in Beni. Gumersindo Yumani, of Coordinadora Audiovisual Indígena television was threatened in Nuevos Horizontes by militants of the Juvenil Riberalteña Union, a similar organisation to the UJC, who snatched his camera and handed it back with images deleted.
Several other state media, considered close to the government, were harassed throughout the weekend, particularly the international TV Telesur, Canal Universitario de Trinidad, Televisión Boliviana, Radio Patria Nueva, the Bolivian News Agency (ABI) and the specialised Cinematography, Education and Production Centre (CEFREC).
Reporters Without Borders urged that beyond a general commitment within Bolivia’s political class to basic freedoms, including freedom of information, that “all opposition political parties should publicly distance themselves from these regional militia and contribute to justice.”