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Journalists harassed in Formosa

(FOPEA/IFEX) - 13 February 2010 - The journalists from the news station Canal 13 and TodoNoticias have been the subjects of ongoing harassment in the city of Formosa, in the northern province of the same name. FOPEA condemns this harassment as interference in the journalists' right to free expression, as well as a violation of citizens' right to be informed.

The harassment took place on several occasions last week, when journalists and camera operators from the capital city of Buenos Aires reported on the sanitary conditions of two hospitals in Formosa. The reporting crew had to leave the province under the escort of army officials because they were afraid of being harassed on the highways.

According to reports by Gonzalo Aziz, the journalist in charge of the team, the intimidation started as soon as the journalists began their work in Formosa. He described how strangers followed them on motorcycles and by car, and they noticed a police presence wherever they went, especially around the hospital. On the night of 11 February, the vandals tried to damage the electrical equipment used for the transmission by cutting a cable just as they were airing a live report on Telenoche, and the television image was momentarily interrupted.

According to Aziz, the person responsible for cutting the cables was a consultant for the local city council who had been seen getting out of a van with the initials of governor Gildo Insfrán, who belongs to the ruling Justicialist Party.

That same night after the live transmission incident, three motorcycles and one car followed the team back to the hotel where they were staying and parked about 40 metres from the hotel, according to FOPEA's sources. At that point, the journalists and camera operators decided to ask the army to escort them down the highway to the neighbouring province of Chaco because they had lost confidence in the local police.

According to Aziz, the group was frequently followed from the first day, when they interviewed a nurse who lost her job after she denounced irregularities at the local hospital.

Aziz also said he was personally harassed: "A person grabbed me by the neck and slapped my cheek and said, 'Watch what you say. Watch what you're doing here in Formosa.'"

FOPEA tried to contact the authorities in Formosa to corroborate Aziz's description of events, but despite repeated calls, there was no response from the minister of development, the minister of government, justice and labour, or the minister of social communication. It was also not possible to locate the provincial police authorities.

FOPEA condemns these acts and insists that the authorities in Formosa guarantee the right to free expression in the province.

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