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Bolivia15 October 2003

Media targeted in social and political crisis

Reporters Without Borders today denounced threats made against journalists covering Bolivia’s two-week-old political crisis and social unrest. Staff of radio station Radio Fides and TV stations Canal 2 and Canal 39 received anonymous phone threats on 13 October as did personnel at radio stations Pachamama, Celestial and Erbol two days earlier.

"We call on the government to do all they can to see that the media can continue to do their job," said the press freedom organisation’s secretary-general, Robert Ménard. "Journalists must be allowed cover the crisis in complete freedom and put out the news they see fit."

Pachamama and Celestial, in the town of El Alto, near the capital, La Paz, and the other stations, in La Paz itself, were warned that "something" would happen to them, that they should "watch out," should stop broadcasting and that the stations would be bombed. Demonstrators tried to stone the studios of Radio Fides, owned by the Catholic Church, on 13 October but were prevented by police.

Seven journalists at the government-run TV station resigned on 12 October in protest what they said was the management’s "distortion" of the news and "lying by omission." They accused the government of intervening to stop news being broadcast about the clashes between demonstrators and security forces in El Alto. They also said they had been threatened because of the station’s news broadcasts.

Juan Yupanqui, of the daily paper El Diario, was beaten up by special security police on 7 October as he followed demonstrators walking from El Alto to La Paz who were tear-gassed and attacked by police barring their way.

Bolivia has been gripped by serious unrest in recent weeks. Trade union and indigenous leaders have called for a general strike in protest against a plan to export Bolivia’s natural gas through neighbouring Chile. El Alto, 15 km from La Paz, has been the focus of the unrest in past few days. About 60 people have been killed in clashes with security forces since the crisis began and President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada decreed martial law in El Alto on 12 October.

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