Bolivia's military rulers announced yesterday that they would try an American journalist arrested Wednesday night for libeling and defaming the country's leaders, news agencies reported.
In the escalating campaign against foreign press operating in Bolivia, two other reporters were arrested and held briefly Wednesday night, and others were questioned or went into hiding.
Amnesty International announced last night it was appealing to the Bolivian leadership to release all political prisoners and publish a list of people killed or injured since the July 17 coup. The human rights organization, which estimated that 1,000 people had been arrested, sent a list of 55 known prisoners and asked for information on their health and whereabouts.
A State Department spokesman said Mary Helen Spooner, 28, a stringer for the London-based Financial Times, was being held at the Interior Ministry in La Paz and Bolivian authorities had refused a U.S. Embassy request for consular access to her.
Interior Minister Col. Luis Arze Gomez told Reuter news agency that Spooner had sent a story to London in "flagrant violation of national and international [press] laws."
Spooner's story alleged that President Luis Garcia Meza and other leaders were involved in drug trafficking and accused Arze Gomez of personal misconduct during clashes between Bolivian miners and the Army in 1967, Reuter reported.
"There are foreign news correspondents who are abusing the facilities they have in Bolivia" the colonel said. "They are transmitting tendentious news based on false information without any sources."
He said Spooner would be tried in a civilan court and that she was in good health. He also absolved two other journalists from responsibility for the article, Reuter staff correspondent Rene Villegas and his assistant Gerardo Irusta had been ordered arrested earlier when it was believed they had written the article.
Arze Gomez said the two could continue working but warned them and other journalists "not to commit this kind of offense."
Two other American correspondents were arrested with Spooner Wednesday night, Beryl Bernay of NBC Radio and Gary Tredway of the Voice of America. Their employers said they were held for three hours and released after questioning.
New York Times correspondent Warren Hoge was also questioned yesterday by police about the whereabouts of Ray Bonner, an independent correspondent who has filed reports for The Washington Post. Bonner is believed to be at liberty but could not be contacted.
In a broadcast transmitted by the Voice of America and the British Broadcasting Corp., Tredway said he was arrested two hours after checking in at his hotel, and "apparently my only offense was being a journalist."
He said he returned to the Interior Ministry after being released to find out what the "lies" were that police had complained about. "They would not tell me what the lies were, and an official in the Interior Ministry refused to be interviewed by me when I asked him to explain what were the lies and what was the truth," Tredway said.
He also said that at least one Bolivian journalist who worked for American news agencies had taken refuge at the U.S. Embassy. Reuter said about 10 Bolivian journalists who worked for international news agencies before the coup have either been arrested, expelled, or gone into hiding.
Four foreign correspondents avoided coming back to their hotel Wednesday night after being advised that police were looking for them. Agence France-Presse reported. They were Jorge Casal of London's Visnews, Ricardo Benozzo of the Italian news service ANSA, Peter Jorbiornson of Swedish television and Jan Schmeitz of Dutch radio.
Jurek Martin of the Financial Times Washington office said Spooner is a native of St. Louis, Mo., who has worked in Latin America for nearly three years. From 1978 to 1979 she was based in Caracas, Venezuela, and reported for Dow Jones, The Washington Star, Time Magazine, and ABC News. She went to Chile in January 1980 to research the foreign policy of the Chilean military rulers with a grant from the Inter-American Press Association. While in Chile she wrote for the New York-based Fairchild pulbications and for the London Economist, as well as for the Financial Times.
In another development, the Associated Press reported that two Maryknoll priests were arrested and jailed by the junta yesterday after they refused military requests to celebrate mass for the success of the new government. They are Rev. William Coy, 61, of Danvers, Minn., and Rev. John Moynihan, 45, of Brockton, Mass.