Intimidation, harassment, threats, physical violence, theft of equipment, ransacking of media premises and censorship of radio and TV stations – such has been the fate of the Bolivian media as the country has been engulfed by a political crisis and chaos in the past few weeks.
RSF has registered more than 30 press freedom violations since 20 October, the date of the presidential election. In a climate of extreme polarization, both pro-Morales and opposition media outlets have been caught in the crossfire in a situation of extreme vulnerability (the former systematically targeted by coup supporters).
A transmission station belonging to the TV channel Unitel was ransacked in El Alto, the municipality adjoining the capital, La Paz, on 9 November. The same day, journalists and other employees of the state broadcasters Bolivia TV and Radio Red Patria Nueva were forced to leave their offices by protesters, who managed to cut their broadcast signal.
José Aramayo, the director of a community radio station owned by the Bolivian Confederation of Peasant Farmers, was meanwhile beaten, tied to a tree and publicly humiliated.
On the night of 11 November, protesters set fire to the La Paz home of Casimira Lema, a presenter on the TV channel Television Universitaria (TVU), which had already announced that it was temporarily suspending operations after being subjected to intimidation. Several other media outlets such as the newspaper Pagina 7 and the TV channel Red Uno took similar measures in order to protect their staff.
The past few weeks have also seen a surge in online attacks and harassment of journalists covering protests, while dozens of newspapers such as Opinión and Los Tiempos in Cochabamba, Página Siete in La Paz, and El Deber, La Estrella del Oriente, El Día and El Mundo in Santa Cruz have been forced to stop producing print versions because they could not guarantee the safety of their distributors.
“Pres freedom is in great danger in Bolivia” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau. “Targeted by demonstrators, journalists are no longer able work in an acceptable level of security. In this climate of tension and extreme violence, politicians, the army, demonstrators, union leaders and indigenous leaders must all respect the work of the media and ensure that journalists’ safety is guaranteed throughout the country.”
After three weeks of massive protests triggered by his controversial reelection – and under pressure from the army – President Morales announced his resignation on 10 November and left for exile in Mexico. Bolivia now has a power vacuum at the highest level, while violence and mutinies continue in many regions.
Bolivia is ranked 113th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.