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Bolivian Twitter Users Arrested For Photographing Historic Building

[All links lead to Spanish-language websites, unless otherwise noted]

Patricia Vargas (@arquitecta), an active and well-known Bolivian Twitter user, went to take photographs on the streets of her hometown of Cochabamba with photographer and filmmaker Roberto Lanza (@lobobs) on Sunday, November 3, but their outing was disrupted when both were arrested by the police.

Vargas immediately announced the incident on Twitter:

#Urgent they're arresting Roberto lanza and me for taking photos in the city, media help, they're taking us to FELCN (Special Force against Drug Trafficking)

Her message spread through the Bolivian Twitter community and various media and public figures responded.

The arrest occurred after she photographed the exterior facade of the Banco Mercantil Santa Cruz, a historic building in Cochabamba which was once owned by mining millionaire Simón I. Patiño [en].

Banco Mercantil Santa Cruz. Foto por @arquitecta compartida en Twitter.

Banco Mercantil Santa Cruz. Photo by @arquitecta shared on Twitter.

Despite being released without charge after five hours by the Special Force to Combat and Control Crime (FELCC), some suggested that they weren't allowed to photograph financial buildings for security reasons.

However, there is international legislation that makes clear the illegality of the event. Blogger and free culture activist Justin Duranboger published the rule supporting public photography on his blog:

La Decisión 351 Régimen Común sobre Derecho de Autor y Derechos Conexos (17 de diciembre de 1993) de la Comunidad Andina de Naciones de la cual Bolivia es miembro junto a Colombia, Ecuador y Perú, en su artículo 22, inciso h) reconoce la libertad de panorama:

Artículo 22.- Sin perjuicio de lo dispuesto en el Capítulo V y en el artículo anterior, será lícito realizar, sin la autorización del autor y sin el pago de remuneración alguna, los siguientes actos:
(…)
h) Realizar la reproducción, emisión por radiodifusión o transmisión pública por cable, de la imagen de una obra arquitectónica, de una obra de las bellas artes, de una obra fotográfica o de una obra de artes aplicadas, que se encuentre situada en forma permanente en un lugar abierto al público;

Decision 351 The Common Provision on Copyright and Related Rights (December 17, 1993) of the Andean Community of Nations of which Bolivia is a member, along with Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, article 22, paragraph h) recognizes the freedom of panorama:

Article 22: Without prejudice to the provisions of Chapter V and in the preceding article, the following acts shall be lawful, without the consent of the artist and without payment of any remuneration:

h) Reproduce, broadcast or transmit by direct cable, the image of an architectural work, a work of fine art, a photograph or a work of applied art, that is permanently situated in a space open to the public;

Alfonso Gumucio, a journalist, writer and filmmaker with an extensive career, also explained the arbitrary nature of the arrest on Twitter:

@pvargasj @payorivero @arquitecta That's not true Paul. What's prohibited is taking pictures of the interior, not the exterior.

The false arrest also took place under conditions that the two described and criticized as irregular and in violation of civil rights.

Roberto Lanza explained what happened on Twitter:

Two armed plainclothes officers approached us aggressively saying that we couldn't take photos there. We asked for their badges and they pulled out their guns.

For us in that moment we were being attacked, they demanded that we get into an unmarked vehicle.

There was no way we were getting into that vehicle and we asked for the police, that's when the personal attack started from the two offended officers

We shouted for help but nobody budged. We tried to prolong the tension until uniformed officers appeared. The police struggled with @arquitecta

In terms of the excessive aggression and dubious action by the police, Patricia concludes:

@locacomotumadre how is it possible that 2 people without uniforms display their guns when you request identification. What would you think?

Patricia and Roberto have received support from many in the artistic and cultural community. Well-known Bolivian filmmaker Marcos Loayza (@marcosloayza) says:

@LaMalaPalabra @arquitecta no one should be arrested for taking photos or filming anywhere in the country

After the incident, Patricia thanked those who supported them on the web and at the police station. She also stressed the effect of asking for help via social networks:

Never hesitate to ask for help on this medium, or another online medium, there will always be someone who will read it and spread your message with a RT.

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