Journalists attacked in violent street clashes

New York, February 14, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the violent attacks against Bolivian journalists that occurred while they were covering two days of deadly street protests in the capital, La Paz.

The violence erupted when a crowd of civilians, angry over an attempt by President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada to introduce a new income tax, joined 7,000 striking police officers in a massive protest against the government. Military forces battled demonstrators in clashes near the presidential palace that led to riots and left more than 25 dead, more than 100 injured, and a dozen of government buildings destroyed by fire.

On Wednesday, February 12, at around 5 p.m., cameraman Toribio Kanki, from the television network Unitel, was shot in the right ankle while trying to film clashes in Murillo Square. He underwent surgery for his wounds and is currently recovering, according to Unitel’s department of public relations.

At 5:30 p.m., reporter Gonzalo Rivera, also from Unitel, was beaten and kicked by a group of civilians. Half an hour later, Fernando Ormachea, cameraman from television Canal 5 Bolivisión, was punched and kicked by civilians who later tried to grab his equipment. Neither was seriously injured.

That evening, two La Paz­based television stations, Canal 7 and Canal 5 Bolivisión, decided to discontinue transmissions to guarantee the safety of their personnel and facilities. “Looters and rioters were attacking local businesses and government buildings in our area,” José Raúl Novillo, general manager of Canal 7, told CPJ. “We received anonymous calls saying that they were coming for us,” he added.

On the morning of February 13, photographer Juan José Torrejón, of the daily La Prensa, was injured when a tear gas canister hit his leg. He was taken to a hospital and later released with no serious injuries, according to Freddy Morales, secretary-general of the press union organization Federación de Trabajadores de la Prensa de Bolivia.

The two television stations began broadcasting again on Thursday. Later in the day, after negotiations with the government, police officers returned to their posts and resumed patrols in La Paz.