Reporters Without Borders appealed again today for Bolivia’s politicians to come together to halt renewed violence against the media, mainly in the country’s secessionist eastern provinces, in the wake of the 10 August recall referendum. At least six attacks on journalists were reported yesterday in Santa Cruz and Beni provinces between government supporters and opponents.
“Hardly any attacks on journalists occurred during the voting itself, suggesting that despite political tensions, safe working conditions for journalists are possible,” the wordwide press freedom organisation said. “But since the referendum (won by both President Evo Morales and opposition provincial governors), political conflict is again undermining the media and the freedom to keep the public informed. The national and provincial victors must come to an agreement about basic freedoms and ensure their most militant supporters comply with it.”
Three journalists of privately-owned TV stations Bolivisión and ATB were attacked by pro-government supporters in Santa Cruz on 18 August while reporting a demonstration by the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista, a radical secessionist group that has often physically attacked pro-government media outlets. The assailants used metal-spiked sticks, stones, bricks and other blunt weapons to smash the windows and wheels of the journalists’s vehicle, whose driver managed to escape.
Eyel Mendoza, of Bolivisión, took refuge in a house and his cameraman, Remberto Arauz, was set upon by about 30 protesters. “They took my camera and punched, kicked and beat me with sticks before I could get away,” he told Reporters Without Borders. He is suspected of having lower back injuries. ATB cameraman Miguel Angel Flores was also beaten. Despite wearing clearly-marked media jackets, they were accused by the attackers of supporting the secessionists.
José Luis Ledesma (journalist) and Iver Justiciano (cameraman) of the privately-owned TV station Canal 18 Megavisión, were attacked and injured in clashes nearby between the two sides a few hours later. “I fell down and my camera was smashed,” Ledesma said. “The police helped me and I have to have an x-ray.“ Miguel Arias, of TV station Canal 33 Giga Visión, and Hilario Muñoz, a photographer with the daily paper El Mundo, was also hurt.
Secessionists in the northern province of Beni besieged the offices of the pro-government radio station Red Patria Nueva in Rurrenabaque the same day and goaded its staff. Police arrived before the situation got out of hand.
Similar attacks occurred on previous days. Wilson Castillo, of the privately-owned TV station PAT, and Rubén Darío Méndez, of the daily El Deber, were roughed up by police while covering a clash between police and demonstrators in Santa Cruz on 15 August. The next day, cameraman Juan Carlos Thames, of the state-owned TV station Canal 7, and several colleagues were attacked in the city by secessionists who claimed they were “against the province.”