Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
While the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, the government retaliated against media outlets that expressed dissenting opinions. Some media outlets reported the government pressured and intimidated them to report favorably regarding government policies by withholding government advertising and imposing steep taxes.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: On July 14, the National Association of Journalists of Bolivia and the Association of Journalists of La Paz issued a statement denouncing the Public Ministry’s “harassment” of the director of Radio Yungas, Eliana Ayaviri, and the director of Radio FM Bolivia, Galo Hubner, who covered clashes in the Yungas coca-growing sector. The statement claimed that prosecutor Odalis Leonor Penaranda violated rules governing press freedoms by ordering Ayaviri and Hubner to hand over lists of interviewees and copies of press reports they published on July 3-6. The statement further alleged the prosecutor’s demand expressed “a clear attitude of intimidation and pressure.”
Violence and Harassment: Journalists faced threats. According to open sources, on September 28, police arrested Carlos Quisbert, a journalist for the daily newspaper Pagina Siete, after a police officer ran over him with his motorcycle while Quisbert was covering a coca growers protest in the vicinity of the Minasa Terminal in La Paz. At the same event cameraman Santiago Limachi and his son Sergio claimed they were injured when police shot teargas canisters at them. In response to these reports, on September 29, the special rapporteur for freedom of expression of the IACHR issued a statement urging the government to allow journalists to perform their work unhindered.
One journalist accused authorities of being complicit in the burning of a radio station in a rural area in the department of Cochabamba, but no further information was available.
Examples of government harassment included sending hostile letters to journalists who published unfavorable stories and parking government vehicles outside their homes.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: In addition to fear of prosecution and harassment, journalists sometimes practiced self-censorship due to fear of losing their jobs or losing access to government sources.
According to the law, the government should provide goods and services to all media outlets in a nondiscriminatory manner, but sometimes the government did not purchase advertisements in certain media outlets because those media were considered opposed to the government’s policy positions.
Media outlets alleged the government pressured news organizations to report favorably on government policies. Media outlets also alleged the government retaliated against news organizations that did not comply with that pressure. The National Press Association of Bolivia and several journalists alleged the government’s retaliatory tactics included withdrawing advertisements and conducting excessive tax audits, which forced companies to spend significant time and resources to defend themselves.
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The government generally respected the right of freedom of association.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: The law prohibits travel on election days and on census days and restricts foreign and domestic travel for up to three months as a penalty for persons who do not vote.
The government cooperated with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees through the National Commission on Refugees. The country has a legal structure and framework to accommodate those seeking refuge and has a registry of refugees and stateless persons.
Employment: Refugees have the right to work once authorities grant their residency status but not while waiting on pending applications. IOM officials assisted with economic integration programs in coordination with the government to support entrepreneurs and small business owners from the Venezuelan community to create and maintain small businesses.
Durable Solutions: IOM and UNHCR officials reported a steady rise in the number of Venezuelan migrants electing to stay in Bolivia. Most migrants ended up in the larger cities of Santa Cruz, La Paz, El Alto, and Cochabamba seeking work and support services. Most migrants who arrived since January lacked legal status since they crossed the Peruvian border along irregular routes.
On September 1, the government passed Supreme Decree 4576, which provides migrants the ability to normalize their status without paying fines. Minister of Government Eduardo del Castillo explained the law was enacted because many foreign nationals were unable to properly adjust their status in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.