Bolivia: Video Crew Assaulted, Jailed; Defend The Right To Freedom Of Expression

SUMMARY

On Thursday, August 15, 2002, a video crew working on a television series on sexuality was assaulted by police officers in La Paz, Bolivia. Actresses, actors and activists involved in the project were beaten and kicked. The police used tear gas against passersby who had assembled to watch the series being shot. Twelve crew members were arrested. The arrested persons were further subjected to cruel treatment in detention. All detainees have been freed, but now face charges of "obscene acts" and " obscene performances".

ACTION

IGLHRC joins Mujeres Creando--the Bolivian lesbian organization which is carrying out the filming project--in condemning the abuses inflicted on the video crew and demanding the immediate dropping of all charges against them, as well as an investigation of misconduct on the part of police and the Public Prosecutor's Office.

Please write TODAY to:

Ministerio de Justicia y Derechos Humanos (Justice and Human Rights Ministry)
Ministro Dr. Mario Serrate Ruiz
Phone: 591 2 36 1037
Fax: 591 2 39 2982
minijust@caoba.entelnet.bo
La Paz District Prosecutor Ms. Corina Machicado
Fax no. 591 2 211 39 03

And please send a copy to:

Mujeres Creando
creando@ceibo.entelnet.bo

A sample letter follows.

SAMPLE LETTER

Dear Sir,

We write to you to express our concern about the abuses inflicted by police and prosecutors on a video crew filming a television series in La Paz, on Thursday, August 15, 2002.

We are concerned by the conduct of police, who beat and kicked the film crew and actors. We are concerned by the actions of Public Prosecutor Lidia Aguado, who sentenced nine people to immediate detention in filthy cells, refusing them warm clothes and even refusing men the right to wear clothes in detention; and who is now pressing charges under Articles 323 and 324 of the Bolivian Penal Code.

We condemn this attempt to censor an independent video production aimed at educating Bolivian women and youth on their fundamental rights to freedom from sexual violence and to informed sexual choices. The Public Prosecutor argued that Bolivian society "is not prepared" to face these discussions and thus had to be "protected" from them. Bolivian society is more mature than that.

Police officers who disrupted the filming violated the participants' right to freedom of expression, protected by the Bolivian Constitution (Article 7b) and by international human rights instruments Bolivia has ratified, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights. They also violated the group's right to participate in the cultural life of the Bolivian community.

The treatment of those arrested violated their right to humane treatment, protected by the Bolivian Constitution (Article 12) and by international instruments. We demand an immediate investigation of the abuses during arrest and the conditions of detention, and the punishment of those found responsible.

We further urge the elimination or revision of Articles 323 and 324 of the Bolivian Penal Code. At a minimum, materials with artistic or educational value should be exempted from strictures against obscenity. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights protects the right to the exchange of "information and ideas of all kinds." Censorship of artistic or educational materials clearly violates both the spirit and the letter of the Covenant, and discredits the democratic credentials of Bolivia.

Sincerely, (your name, organization, and address)

BACKGROUND

The television series in question--created by the activist group Mujeres Creando--deals with issues of sexuality and violence, in a framework of women's human rights and with an educational purpose. It is supported by the Spanish foundation Ibermedia and the Bolivian National Film Institute (Conacine).

At 11.30 a.m., on Thursday, August 15, 2002, the video crew and actors filming an episode on a public street were assaulted by police officers who beat and kicked them. Tear gas was used to dispel a crowd that had gathered to watch the filming. Maria Galindo (Mujeres Creando), Eliana Dentone (National Association of Sex Workers, Chile) and Carmen Sanchez (sound technician from Spain) were arrested, along with nine male actors, who were naked. They were taken to Judicial-Technical Police headquarters in Pando Avenue, where the Prosecutor immediately ordered them to spend eight hours in detention, even before reviewing the charges against them. Activists charge that Public Prosecutor Lidia Aguado displayed "manifest homophobia" in her treatment of Maria Galindo, a lesbian, and showed prejudice toward Eliana Dentone, as a sex worker. They have submitted a formal complaint to authorities.

The detainees were locked in cells so dirty that the three women felt sick. Medical assistance was denied them, as well as warm clothes. The male actors were not allowed to dress, even though their clothes had been taken with them to the police station. It was only two hours later, when Mr. Sacha Llorenti, from the Ombudsman's Office, intervened, that the men could dress themselves. All the detainees were finally released.

The Public Prosecutor Office has pressed charges of "obscene acts" (Article 323 of the Penal Code) and "obscene performances" (Article 324) against the detainees. Subsequently, however, the Ministry of Government (Ministerio de Gobierno) has issued a Constitutional warrant to the video crew, allowing them to continue filming without interference from State authorities.

IN INTERNATIONAL LAW

The right to freedom of expression is protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in its Article 19, which states that " Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice." In an authoritative commentary on the ICCPR, Manfred Nowak writes, "There can be no doubt that every communicable type of subjective idea and opinion, of value-neutral news and information, of commercial advertising, art works, political commentary regardless of how critical, pornography, etc., is protected by Art. 19(2) . . . It is thus impossible to close out undesirable contents, such as pornography or blasphemy, by restrictively defining the scope of protection." (CCPR Commentary, 1993) The right to freedom of expression is also protected by the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights (IACHR) in its Article 13.

The right to the liberty and security of the person, and to freedom from arbitrary arrest, is protected by the ICCPR in its Article 9, and by the IACHR in its Article 7.

The right to freedom from torture and from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is protected by the ICCPR in its Article 7, and by the IACHR in its Article 5.

The right to participate in cultural life is protected by Article 15.1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and, for women, by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in its Article 13.

Bolivia ratified the ICCPR and ICESCR in 1982; CEDAW in 1990; and the IACHR in 1979.

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