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Photographers threatened, harassed in Chaco and Santa Cruz

(FOPEA/IFEX) - FOPEA condemns the detention of Gustavo Torres, a photographer for "El Diario de la Regíon", in Resistencia (Chaco), and the deletion of some of his photos while he was covering a police operation on 20 April 2010. FOPEA also denounces the intimidation suffered by photojournalist Alcides Quiroga, of the newspaper "La Prensa de Santa Cruz", who was threatened by union leaders on 16 April, in Caleta Olivia, and also obliged to erase photographic material he had taken of a picket line.

Torres was insulted and detained by provincial police officer Hugo Gustavo Olivello, when he tried to take photos of an unconscious woman lying in the street.

Torres explained to FOPEA that the incident took place in a central street in the capital of Chaco. Olivello, who is part of the motorcycle police unit, tried to stop Torres from taking pictures of the unconscious woman and ordered his detention. According to the journalist, the officer insulted him, forced him to sit on the ground and handcuffed his hands behind his back. Olivello told a local media outlet that the detention had taken place because Torres did not identify himself as a journalist before he starting taking photographs.

Torres was later transferred to the Nº 5 police station where he was held up for hours and about five of his photos, which showed Olivello's face, were erased. Torres recovered some of the pictures when his equipment was returned to him.

FOPEA attempted to contact government minister Juan Manuel Pedrini, but was unable to get an official explanation for the incident. In a public statement, the official regretted what had happened and said an internal security forces investigation would be carried out to determine who was responsible. He also promised to "guarantee free expression and the physical safety of media workers".

FOPEA condemns the actions of the police, which impeded the work of journalists and denounces the mistreatment and humiliation suffered by photographer Gustavo Torres. It also highlights the implications of erasing pictures taken by a journalist in a public space.

FOPEA calls on authorities in Chaco, especially the provincial executive, to investigate and punish those who acted outside the limits of their responsibilities. Local authorities still have not prosecuted anyone for the attack on photographer Jorge Flores, also an "El Diario de la Región" journalist, who was brutally assaulted in October 2009.

In a separate case, FOPEA also deplores the intimidation suffered by Alcides Quiroga in Santa Cruz. The incident was reported to the local Nº 4 police station.

Quiroga told FOPEA that he had been taking panoramic photos of the picket line from a distance, and when he approached the protesters, Américo Palma, the union's general secretary, asked him who he was. The journalist identified himself and reminded him that he had covered such events before. Protestors surrounded Quiroga and forced him to erase his photos while insulting him. "I knew I was in danger, so I agreed to erase the photos to try to calm them down," he said. Other demonstrators helped him leave the area.

FOPEA condemns this intimidating act which hindered the work of a photojournalist and asks provincial authorities to guarantee the press's ability to practice their profession in all environments, as well as the right of the people to be informed.

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