February 1, 2018

Bolivian journalist hounded after accusing boss of sexual harassment

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemn the Bolivian state’s persecution of Yadira Peláez, a former public TV journalist who accused her boss of sexual harassment, and they call for the withdrawal of the three judicial cases brought against her by government officials or allies.

Peláez was working for Canal 7, one of the channels operated by Bolivia TV (the state-owned broadcaster overseen by Bolivia’s communications ministry), when she filed a complaint on 13 December 2016 reporting that she had been sexually harassed by Canal 7 director Carlos Flores Menacho.

This marked the start of a long ordeal for Peláez. A few weeks later, on 24 January 2017, BTV fired her without any explanation. Flores then proceeded to do everything possible to discredit her. This included getting BTV employees to sign a statement questioning her reliability and professionalism.

A total of 23 letters containing the statement were then sent to all the major departments of the Bolivian state including the communications ministry, within which Flores has many supporters.

Peláez went public about the alleged sexual harassment on 6 March 2017. Two days later, BTV suspended Flores, who quickly filed a complaint accusing her of slander and defamation. As Peláez prepared her defence during the following months, she encountered many obstacles including obstruction by the Bolivian state, which banned her from entering public buildings and refused to give her information.

Two additional judicial complaints were meanwhile brought against Peláez. The first, by communications minister and former Canal 7 boss Gisela López, accuses Peláez of “political persecution and violence against women” and denies the claim made by Peláez in several interviews that López knew about the sexual harassment and did nothing to help her.

The second, by the current head of Canal 7, Fabiola Rollano Peña, accuses Peláez of “public corruption.”

Peláez says she has been the victim of a major destabilization campaign since filing her complaint, and feels quite helpless. “I no longer know what to do,” she said. “I no longer have a job and I’m in a difficult financial situation because I must pay sizeable legal fees and travel expenses.” She is not a resident of La Paz but has to travel there to attend hearings and try to organize her defence.

The persecution of Yadira Peláez is unacceptable,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau. “The proceedings initiated against her as a result of her workplace harassment complaint must be withdrawn".

Instead of resorting to these bizarre methods and to further harassing a journalist who was already harassed, the Bolivian authorities should use this case to start a debate about the role of women in Bolivia’s media and to establish procedures for protecting and developing the work of women journalists.

Another sexual harassment complaint was filed against Flores in 2017 by another Canal 7 journalist, Claudia Pardo, who has in turn been accused of “political persecution and violence against women” by the communications ministry and is now also the target of judicial proceedings.

CPJ research has found that Bolivian officials have used threats of defamation and other criminal charges to intimidate journalists.

Bolivia is ranked 107th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.