Demonstrators burn tires to protest the postponement of the upcoming presidential election in El Alto, Bolivia, on August 10, 2020. Protesters recently attacked journalist David Sapiencia in Mairana. (AP/Juan Karita)

Bolivian photojournalist David Sapiencia attacked by protesters

Bogotá, August 11, 2020 – Bolivian authorities should quickly and thoroughly investigate the attack on journalist David Sapiencia, identify those responsible, and hold them to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On August 5, about two dozen protesters in the central Bolivian town of Mairana attacked Sapiencia, a freelance photojournalist, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app.

Sapiencia told CPJ that he drove to Mairana after activists blocked a highway to protest the Bolivian interim government’s decision to postpone presidential elections until October 18. When he took out his cellphone to take photos, the protesters, who gathered to support the opposition Movement to Socialism political party, beat Sapiencia with clubs and pelted him with rocks, according to the journalist and a report by the Bolivian National Press Association, a local press freedom group.

Sapiencia was hospitalized after the attack, where he received seven stitches for wounds on his head, was treated for bruises, and released after a few hours, he said. He told CPJ yesterday that he suffered partial memory loss, remains in pain, and is being treated by a neurologist who has ordered him to rest and avoid work for the next two weeks.

“It is essential that Bolivian authorities identify those responsible for the brutal attack against photojournalist David Sapiencia and hold them to account,” said CPJ South and Central America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Groups participating in the protests in Bolivia must understand the fundamental role that journalists play in reporting these events, and immediately stop attacking the press.”

Sapiencia is a freelance photographer and founder and editor of Los Valles, a local news and culture page on Facebook, he told CPJ. Following the attack, he posted  a video on the Los Valles page showing a bloody cut on his head.

“I thought I was going to die,” he said, adding that he momentarily lost consciousness during the attack. He said protesters also broke into his car and stole his Nikon camera, and then left him at the scene. Sapiencia told CPJ that a town resident with a motorcycle drove him to a hospital following the attack.

The attack was initiated by a demonstrator leading a group of women supporters of the Movement to Socialism, and then others joined in, according to the Bolivian National Press Association report.

Sapiencia told CPJ that he reported the attack to the Mairana police. When CPJ contacted the police station via text message, Police Sargent Edil Sandoval said he could not release any information about the case because an investigation was ongoing.

Sapiencia told CPJ that protesters have recently attacked journalists perceived to be sympathetic to the interim government. The La Paz daily Página Siete reported that at least five journalists, including Sapiencia, have been verbally and physically assaulted while covering demonstrations since late July.

Sapiencia told CPJ that he takes photos of protests only with his mobile phone to avoid calling attention to himself.  “It’s too dangerous to use a real camera,” he said.