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Bolivian state telecommunications company announces criminal proceedings against journalist for report

A Bolivian journalist who reported alleged irregularities in the contracting of the country's state telecommunications company could be criminally prosecuted.

Raúl Peñaranda/Knight Center

The company Entel announced on Jan. 2 that it will initiate a criminal proceeding against journalist Raúl Peñaranda, director of the Bolivian news website Brújula Digital, for damaging its business image and not being objective in his recent report, Página Siete reported.

The article, published on Dec. 21 in Brújula Digital, says that the state company made two public calls in 2018 to hire a security company, allegedly without requiring it to have an operating license granted by the Ministry of Government and authorized by the Bolivian Police.

"I wrote a news article, even relatively secondary, administrative, without much importance, we say, about the Entel company, which in its bids for the hiring of security companies fails to request that these companies have an operating license," Peñaranda told the Knight Center.

However, after the publication, a notary delivered to his home a first notarized letter from the manager of Entel, the journalist said.

In the letter, the company demanded public redress and retraction for which it gave a period of 24 hours, according to Página Siete.

In response to the request for public retraction from the company, Peñaranda published on his website that he sent Entel's national administration and finance manager, José Arturo Medina, a letter confirming that the article on Brújula Digital is well substantiated.

In a second notarized letter, received by Peñaranda on Jan. 2, Entel announced its intention to carry out a legal proceeding against the director of Brújula Digital.

Peñaranda considered that this is a case of government harassment against all journalists, "a sign of intimidation." "A journalist cannot be criminally accused for the work he’s done; I have not damaged the institutional image of anything either, I only have limited myself to making a journalistic note based on a norm that is very clear and very evident," the journalist said.

Entel did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this story.

In a joint statement by the National Association of Journalists of Bolivia (ANP) and the Association of Journalists of La Paz (APLP), the organizations rejected the announcement of the legal actions from Entel.

In addition, the organizations explained that the Print Law, which governs journalistic work and is in the Bolivian Constitution, says in Article 28 that it corresponds to a Print Jury to evaluate the alleged crimes that the press may have committed against public officials, who can only complain to this jury, ANF published.

In that regard, Peñaranda said that if a legal action is taken against him, it should be seen by the print court of the city of La Paz and not by the ordinary courts.

"This trial has not started, it's just an announcement through a notarized letter. Therefore, it can not be said that the process has actually been initiated," Peñaranda said. And, he added, "apparently, I will be officially summoned in the next few days for that."

In addition to journalists associations, Peñaranda has also received the support of his colleagues and international human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW).

José Miguel Vivanco, director for Latin America of HRW said via Twitter that if there was a solid state of law in Bolivia, this "crazy denunciation" would not worry him. "But as @evoespueblo (Evo Morales) has control over many judges, Peñaranda’s freedom is at risk," he said.

Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) also noted through Twitter that they are following the announcement of a legal proceeding against Peñaranda with concern, "for an article on contracting that asks the state company for accountability.”


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