[JURIST] The majority of Bolivian newspapers engaged in a joint protest Thursday against a proposed anti-racism law [text, PDF; in Spanish] that they claim would damage freedom of expression. The newspapers shared one message on their front page, “There is no democracy without freedom of expression,” in response [Los Tiempos report] to a decision by President Evo Morales [official profile, in Spanish; BBC profile] to maintain certain provisions of the legislation. Article 16 of the bill currently being discussed by the Senate, and which was already passed by the Chamber of Deputies [official website, in Spanish], would establish economic sanctions and allow for media outlets that publish information considered by the government to be racist or discriminatory to be closed. Bolivia’s journalists and media outlets maintain that they support the struggle against racism but that they cannot accept provisions that would limit freedom of expression. They worry that the bill could be used for political ends to censor unfavorable opinions.
The legislation comes as part of a wider campaign by Morales to advance the interests of the majority indigenous community, which has been a theme of his presidency [JURIST report]. In June, the Bolivian National Congress approved [JURIST report] legislation [text, PDF; in Spanish] that will create an independent justice system for indigenous communities. The Law of Judicial Authority, is attempting to create a system of “communal justice” that would expedite the settlement of disputes and end the colonization of justice, according to supporters. Opponents in congress criticized the bill as a way in which to get more people from the indigenous population on the courts, regardless of merit. In March 2009, Morales began redistributing land to indigenous farmers under power given to him by the country’s new constitution [text, in Spanish]. Bolivia’s new constitution went into effect [JURIST report] in February 2009, after being approved [JURIST report] by national referendum the previous month with a 59 percent majority. It is intended to place more power in the hands of the country’s indigenous. The constitution is intended to remove traditional colonial elites from power and to challenge US influence. It also creates seats in Congress for minority indigenous groups.