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Bolivia's president brings criminal libel suit against journalist

Bolivia's President Evo Morales speaks during a press conference at the government palace in La Paz, Bolivia, February 2016
Bolivia's President Evo Morales speaks during a press conference at the government palace in La Paz, Bolivia, February 2016

AP Photo/Juan Karita

This statement was originally published on on 5 August 2016.

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today described as an act of intimidation a criminal libel suit brought by the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, against journalist Humberto Vacaflor, saying this seeks to bring about a deterrent effect against press freedom in the South American country.

Vacaflor was charged after reporting in a program, broadcast by Catholic television station Católica TV on July 4, that Morales was one of the masterminds of the murder of a police officer and his wife in 2000 in the Chapare district. At that time Morales was a member of Congress and a rural leader. The allegation, which Judge René Delgado decided to send to the pre-trial stage as a charge of defamation, was submitted on July 12.

The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Claudio Paolillo, declared, "This is not the first time that we see those in power exceeding their limits in the use of that power with the intention of harassing, limiting information of public interest and punishing critical journalists."

Paolillo, editor of the Montevideo, Uruguay, weekly Búsqueda, said that when a public figure is involved "these criminal charges go against international jurisprudence," in addition to being aimed at "seeking a dissuasive effect against free journalistic activity."

According to local media, Vacaflor had referred to information published by the newspaper Los Tiempos in 2003 about statements made by alleged witnesses who declared that Morales gave the order to make the married couple disappear. A later investigation ruled out Morales' connections with the crime. Vacaflor is known as a journalist critical of the government and this year he received the National Press Association's Freedom Prize.

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