Bogotá, April 5, 2021 – Bolivian authorities must thoroughly investigate the attack on journalist Franklin Guzmán Zambrana and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On March 30, near the village of Santa Bárbara, about five miles northeast of the capital, La Paz, a group of truck drivers abducted, assaulted, and robbed Guzmán, a freelance reporter on assignment for the privately owned broadcaster Radio FM Bolivia, according to Guzmán and Radio FM Bolivia news director Galo Hubner, both of whom spoke with CPJ, and news reports.
At the time of the attack, Guzmán was covering a demonstration by thousands of coca farmers who had blocked a highway near La Paz to protest the government’s decision to relocate a state-run collection site for their coca leaves, according to the journalist, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app, and news reports.
Truck drivers angry about the blockade confronted Guzmán and accused him of being a spy for the farmers; they then tied him up, struck him in the back with their fists, kicked him in the buttocks, stole his three cell phones, and then released him after about 90 minutes, according to Guzmán and Hubner, who spoke to CPJ in a video call.
“Bolivian authorities must act speedily to investigate the abduction, assault, and robbery of journalist Franklin Guzmán Zambrana, identify the perpetrators, and bring them to account,” said CPJ South and Central America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Journalists must be able to cover protests without risking their personal safety.”
Guzmán said the truck drivers initially demanded that the protesters open the highway in exchange for his release, but they declined and the truckers released him. News reports initially stated that Guzmán was held for several hours, but he confirmed to CPJ that his time in the trucker’s custody amounted to about 90 minutes.
“I showed them my press credentials, but they didn’t believe I was a journalist,” Guzmán told CPJ.
Guzmán said he did not require medical attention and continued reporting on the protests after he was released. He added that he plans to file a criminal complaint with the attorney general’s office.
CPJ called the Bolivian national police headquarters in La Paz and its station in Santa Bárbara for comment, but no one answered.