Reporters Without Borders hopes that no time will be lost in arresting Adolfo Cerrudo, the head of the Popular Civic Committee, a radical pro-government group whose activists threatened and physically attacked journalists working for privately-owned TV stations on 4 June in La Paz.
The press freedom organisation also hopes that a four-day visit to Bolivia by representatives of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that begins today will help to elicit significant gestures by all political sectors in support of basic rights and freedoms, including press freedom.
“We previously asked the opposition political parties to publicly disown regional militias such as the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista that physically attacked state media or allegedly pro-government media during the recent pro-autonomy referendums (see 2 June release),” Reporters Without Borders said.
“In the same way, we now call on the government to act with the utmost firmness with the Popular Civic Committee activists who were guilty of attacks on private-sector journalists,” the organisation added. “By attacking press freedom, these radical groups are trying to create as much disruption and polarisation as possible before the national referendum scheduled for 10 August.”
The latest violence took place when journalists went to cover a demonstration by Popular Civic Committee activists led by Cerrudo outside the office of the Ombudsman in La Paz on 4 June to demand the release of Robert Lenín Sandoval López, who is accused of violence against government representatives and other offences.
Christian Rojas, a reporter with the privately-owned TV station Cadena A, told Reporter Without Borders: “When we arrived at about 8:15 pm, Adolfo Cerrudo recognised me and said, ‘Tell your boss that we are going to kill him and if you don’t tell him, you will suffer the same fate’.” Cerrudo was alluding to Cadena A’s news editor, Jorge Tejerina.
Rojas added: “When my cameraman, Erick Condonera, started recording, Cerrudo called his companions. They pushed him against a wall, surrounded him and threatened him. ‘Stop filming,’ they shouted. ‘Stop filming. We are going to screw the media’.” ATB cameraman Mario Martínez said he was also threatened by Popular Civic Committee activists but was not hit.
During a demonstration he led in March, Cerrudo threatened to rape a woman reporter working for the daily La Razón, which is owned by the Spanish press group Prisa. Journalists’ organisations have notified the authorities about attacks against the media by Cerrudo on 16 November, 6 March, 24 April and 4 June.
Teresa Vera, a member of the public prosecutor’s office in La Paz, said she has ordered an investigation into the allegations against Cerrudo. La Paz police chief Víctor Hugo Escobar said he was waiting for orders to arrest him. And Cadena A has initiated proceedings against him.
The National Press Association (ANP), which groups newspaper owners and editors, has protested twice. In a press release on 5 June, it condemned an attack on Marianela Paco Durán of Radio Aclo (a privately-owned station that tends to toe the government line), who was threatened with being burned alive on 24 May in the southern city of Sucre, and the sabotaging of state-owned Canal 7 Televisión Boliviana in Trinidad, in the northern department of Beni, during a pro-autonomy referendum there.
And in an open letter to President Evo Morales about the 4 June violence, the ANP called for Cerrudo’s arrest. Other organisations such as the La Paz Association of Journalists (APLP) have also issued appeals for Bolivian journalists to be able to work freely, regardless of the nature or political tendency of the media they work for.