Police in Bolivia Pepper Spray Journalist ‘On Purpose’ During Live Coverage of Anti-Coup Protests

“I hate to be the story because we are here to report on what is happening to the people in the amazing country,” said Al-Jazeera English senior correspondent Teresa Bo. “I hope it helps denounce that such practices cannot be tolerated. Not here not anywhere.”

By Jon Queally, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 11-16-2019

Teresa Bo, a senior correspondent for Al-Jazeera was sprayed directly in the face—clearly “on purpose,” she says—while covering anti-coup demonstrators in the city of La Paz, Bolivia on Friday, November 15, 2019. (Photo: Al-Jazeera/Screenshot)

Becoming part of the story she was seeking to cover, international news correspondent Teresa Bo was assaulted by Bolivian state security forces on Friday—shot directly in the face, while on camera, with tear gas or pepper spray.

Perpetrated while she was reporting for Al-Jazeera English in the city of La Paz—where ongoing streets protests erupted this week after a coup forced the resignation of the nation’s president Evo Morales—the attack on Bo, which occurred while she was giving an on-camera account of the protests, was caught on film.

“I was just thrown tear gas by the police, on purpose,” Bo reports in the segment. “This is what is happening in the middle of a plaza where people have been protesting peacefully. A police officer just threw tear gas in my eyes. It is extremely difficult to speak. Very, very sorry.”

Despite the pain, Bo continues to report the scene and explains that the nearby protesters were clashing with security forces—who can be seen firing tear gas canisters in the background—in an effort to reach the nearby presidential palace.

While Bo in the immediate aftermath of the attack calls the substance tear gas, many noted that the substance was more likely pepper spray.

The street protests in Bolivia have grown larger and more violent this week, with massive demonstrations in cities across the country on Friday. As Common Dreams reported, security forces opened fire on a large crowd of mostly indigenous protesters in the city of Cochabamba on Friday afternoon sending many hundreds of people fleeing for their lives. Numerous people were reported killed and scores more injured.

The assault on Bo, said U.S. journalist Ryan Grim of The Intercept, revealed the correspondent’s “impressive” grit—as she continued with her reporting despite the volatile chemicals burning her face and eyes—but also helped reveal “what’s going on” in Bolivia.

In response to the footage, artist and progressive activist Molly Crabapple—with a sarcastic bite at those who have argued that the overthrow of Morales was not, in fact, a coup—tweeted: “The police of the totally not a coup regime in Bolivia sprayed tear gas into a female journalist’s face because she was reporting on their violent suppression of anti-coup protests.”

“Thanks so much to those who understand we are only doing our job,” Bo tweeted after the video of the attack spread, with many thanking her online for her brave journalism.

“I hate to be the story because we are here to report on what is happening to the people in the amazing country,” Bo said. “I hope it helps denounce that such practices cannot be tolerated. Not here not anywhere.”

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