Bolivian cameraman brutally attacked in La Paz

New York, July 28, 2009–Following a vicious attack on a cameraman for the La Paz-based television network Gigavisión outside the station’s offices early Saturday morning, the Committee to Protect Journalists called on Bolivian authorities today to thoroughly investigate and bring those responsible to justice.

At 6 a.m. on Saturday, two people pushed Marcelo Lobo into an alley near his offices and hit him repeatedly on the head, according to local news reports. When the cameraman lost consciousness, the two assailants cut his cheek and part of his tongue, Gigavisión’s director Alex Arias told local reporters. Lobo was taken to the local Obrero Hospital, Arias said. The attack was partially caught on Gigavisión’s security cameras, according to the local press.

According to the local daily El Deber, Lobo, who covers crime for Gigavisión, has recently worked on stories about corruption and anti-government protests in the city of Santa Cruz. Renán Estenssoro, president of the local press group Fundación para el Periodismo (Foundation for Journalism), told CPJ that he did not know of any threats against Lobo prior to the assault.

Arias told local reporters that he believed the attack was retaliation against Gigavisión, but didn’t provide any specific coverage that could have provoked it. Alberto Aracena, director of Bolivia’s Special Force for the Fight against Crime, the law enforcement body tasked with the investigation, said investigators are looking into retaliation against the reporter as a possible motive, though he did not specify whether the attack was linked to Lobo’s personal life or to his work. Aracena told reporters that it was clearly premeditated, and that the assailants stole Lobo’s cell phone, jacket, and watch, according to the Bolivian official news agency, ABI.

“This is a particularly gruesome attack with a clear message sent to prevent a journalist from speaking out,” CPJ Americas Senior Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría said. “Authorities must ensure that Marcelo Lobo receives the necessary protection to enable him to continue working.”

In 2008, dozens of Bolivian journalists were attacked, harassed, and threatened in a wave of violence that limited coverage of the power struggle between the leftist government of President Evo Morales, an Aymara Indian, and the conservative opposition governors of the eastern lowlands, CPJ research found.