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E-mail of journalist in Santa Rosa allegedly intercepted, his newspaper's website hacked

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has termed "an outrageous abuse of press freedom" a violation of the privacy of the e-mails of journalist Fernando Ayude, of the daily "La Arena" in Santa Rosa, La Pampa province in central Argentina.

The journalist, who specialises in local politics, made the breach public on 23 February 2008. He said that someone has apparently been intercepting and spying on an exchange of e-mails between him and certain politicians opposed to Santa Rosa mayor Juan Carlos Tierno.

Ayude was told by an unidentified informant on 15 February that his e-mails were being spied on. As proof, the individual showed him a printout containing the journalist's e-mail password and two messages, one sent to an opposition city councillor and the other to a former councillor responsible for budgetary questions.

"I believe the objective of this kind of operation is to spy on the opposition through me," Ayude told RSF.

A colleague at "La Arena", Leonardo Santestebán, confirmed that the Santa Rosa mayor has been putting pressure on journalists and the political opposition. He added that the daily's website was targeted by hackers at the end of January.

Ayude, who has been covering the municipal council for six years, said that journalists' work had become much more difficult since the arrival of the new Santa Rosa mayor. Journalists from "media outlets that are critical are no longer admitted to press conferences and getting to speak to the mayor is virtually impossible," he said.

"We express our solidarity with Fernando Ayude and his 'La Arena' colleagues," RSF said. "The early indications from this case, even if they do not prove the direct involvement of Juan Carlos Tierno, certainly point to a much degraded political climate. This violation of correspondence constitutes an outrageous abuse of press freedom. If it is also a clumsy political manoeuvre as Fernando Ayude believes, then there is even greater reason for the mayor and his aides to explain themselves", the organisation added.

This is not the first time that Tierno has tangled with the press. When he was interior minister for La Pampa province between 2003 and 2006 he sued three journalists from "Lumbre" magazine, who had investigated property scandals in which he was implicated. The Supreme Court found in favour of the journalists.

Some sources said that opposition politicians no longer dare meet, telephone, or leave their details on the computers within the municipal council. Some have even paid for protection.

Discouraged by the links between the provincial justice system and the Santa Rosa authorities, the "La Arena" management has decided to not take legal action in the hacking and email violation cases.

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