Bolivian journalist who exposed corruption is threatened

New York, September 12, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by the repeated death threats and harassment of a journalist who exposed corruption in the Bolivian government’s Institute of Forensic Investigations this April.

On April 3, La Prensa, a daily based in the city of La Paz, published an exposé by Bolivian journalist Mónica Oblitas on Erika Hinojosa, a forensic pathologist, after the newspaper received several tips that the official was issuing false documents. Posing as a patient, Oblitas asked Hinojosa for a medical certificate confirming that she had been assaulted. The journalist filmed her encounter with Hinojosa with a hidden camera and wrote that the pathologist issued the certificate in exchange for money and never examined her for wounds.

A few weeks after the publication of the story, Oblitas said she began receiving threatening anonymous cell phone calls, text messages, and emails. Callers threatened to shoot her and break her legs, the journalist said, and one caller even said her days were numbered. Other callers described what her son was wearing while he went to his university classes. Oblitas said that one text message appeared to refer directly to her investigative piece, warning her, “You like to play with forensics. The next case will be yours.” The journalist said she received more than 20 such messages since mid-April, with the most recent one occurring on Wednesday. She also said she has twice been followed between her home and her La Prensa office and that the windows to her apartment were broken on one occasion. She told CPJ that she filed a police report in August. “I am very scared because I don’t know when they will come after me next,” she said.

“We are very worried for the safety of Mónica Oblitas and her family,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ Americas Senior Program Coordinator. “Bolivian authorities must take all steps to protect her and ensure that journalists can practice critical reporting without fear of reprisal.”

In an appearance on a television program, Hinojosa said the allegations against her were false, yet she was removed from her post on April 14, press reports said.

Death threats against journalists in Bolivia are relatively rare, though three reporters were targeted in 2009. Violence against the press has lessened in recent years after a spew of bloody attacks in 2008 during a period of intense political tension.