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President Evo Morales signs controversial anti-racism law in Bolivia

October 12, 2010 |  9:34 am

Bolivia newspapers protest ap

Despite the vigorous protests of journalists across Bolivia, President Evo Morales has signed the Law Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination, a controversial measure that would make it illegal for news organizations in Bolivia to report on statements or acts deemed racist.

"We've had more than 500 years of racism," Morales said, according to Reuters. "At last we passed a law to combat racism and discrimination."

The Bolivian Senate passed the measure without any modifications to the language passed by the lower Chamber of Deputies. Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president and a former coca-leaf grower, signed the legislation Friday while flanked by indigenous and union leaders.

Journalists and Bolivia's opposition elite, centered in the wealthier eastern province of Santa Cruz, have protested two sections of the law, citing fears of government censorship. Under Articles 16 and 23 of the measure, news outlets could be shut down for publishing content deemed racist, and journalists could be jailed for the offense.

On Thursday, several newspapers across the country published blank front pages in protest, along with the message: "There is no democracy without freedom of expression."

Journalists have already collected thousands of signatures for a potential referendum on the law (link in Spanish). The daily Los Tiempos published a short message prominently on its front page online, informing readers that it was shutting down commenting capability on the website due to the law.

Bolivia's Law Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination goes into effect in January, reports the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Newspapers publish a protest message on their front pages in Bolivia on Thursday. Credit: Associated Press

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