Press release May 14, 2020
Bolivia: Supreme Decree Threatens Freedom of Expression
New measures aimed at fighting the COVID-19 health crisis threaten freedom of expression in Bolivia.
In response to President Jeanine Añez’s decision to sign Supreme Decree 4231, which allows the Bolivian State to bring criminal charges against anyone who publishes information deemed to generate uncertainty or put public health at risk, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“We call on President Añez to repeal Paragraph II of Supreme Decree 4231, given the clear and imminent risk it poses to freedom of expression in Bolivia,” said Deborah Ullmer, director of Freedom House’s Latin America and Caribbean programs. “No government should use the current COVID-19 health crisis as a pretext to restrict basic human freedoms or to silence political opponents. Such actions set dangerous precedents for democracy in Bolivia and across the globe. We join the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in their concern for the continuity of freedom of expression in Bolivia in the face of this decree.”
In March, Bolivian president Jeanine Añez approved two supreme decrees aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the country. The decrees contained a paragraph allowing criminal sanctions for anyone who “spreads disinformation or generates uncertainty among the population.” On April 11, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) asked the Bolivian government to revoke them, stating that they did not abide by the rule of law and did not serve to protect public health. The Bolivian attorney general’s office responded by asserting that freedom of expression is not an absolute right, and that the decrees had a legitimate end in protecting the population.
On May 7, Añez passed Supreme Decree 4231, which expands the language in the original decrees from penalizing disinformation, to allowing criminal charges against anyone who publishes information that generates uncertainty or puts public health at risk, expressed through any medium, including print, online, and through artistic expression.
Bolivia is rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2020.