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Journalists assaulted, harassed in Salta

(FOPEA/IFEX) - FOPEA condemns the judicial harassment and police persecution of photojournalist Rolando Díaz, who works for the morning paper "Nuevo Diario" in Salta, northwestern Argentina. The organisation is also concerned about the aggression suffered by "El Tribuno" journalist Jaime Barrera on 28 April 2010 in Rosario de Lerma, also in the Salta province. Barrera has also been subjected to continued discrimination because he is not from Argentina.

A court decision made by Judge Pablo Farah in Salta has led to Díaz being investigated as the person behind alleged threats against three police officers, in relation to a 20 January police operation involving the Jockey Club and the Lules de Finca Las Costas indigenous community.

Police Commissioner Héctor Luciano Tolaba, Deputy Commissioner Néstor José Bogarín and officer Javier Néstor Giménez maintain that Díaz threatened to take pictures of them in a compromising situation in order to have them thrown out of the police force.

During the operation, Díaz took photos of an officer using pepper spray (something that is denied by police) against members of the community who were trying to stop the construction of rugby pitches on disputed land. In the ensuing struggle a police officer spit on Díaz and other media workers were hit by marines. None of the dozens of officers involved in the melee wore identification badges.

Díaz, who often covers disputes, has faced harassment by the police since 2005. Recently, police tried to detain him after he took photographs of a fire. None of the complaints he has filed has resulted in any convictions.

The Salta chief of police, Humberto Argañaraz, admitted to FOPEA that he could not ensure that police officers from his unit would not commit abuses against the press. Nor could he provide guarantees for Díaz's safety, Argañaraz said.

In a separate incident, Barrera was assaulted by Saturnino Reyes Sajama, president of the Rosario de Lerma Deliberating Council, on 28 April. Sajama was reacting to critical comments about city councillors made on Barrera's TV programme and published in an article, after Sajama did not let the press attend a committee meeting. Barrerra told FOPEA that he was not responsible for comments made by other people on his programme and that Sajama had insulted him. Barrera tried to get away but Sajama punched him in the left ear. The injury was confirmed by a doctor and reference to the incident was included in the journalist's complaint submitted to the police.

On 29 April, Sajama read messages about Barrera on a Rosario radio programme. The messages, which were allegedly sent in by the station's listeners, were derogatory against Barrera, who is Chilean. The journalist subsequently filed a complaint with the National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (Instituto Nacional contra la Discriminación, la Xenofobia y el Racismo, INADI).

When contacted by FOPEA, Sajama denied punching Barrera, but admitted to reading just "one" message about the journalist. However, he could not recall its contents.

FOPEA calls on the Salta government authorities to address these incidents, respect the work of the press and guarantee that journalists and photographers can carry out their work without being harassed and attacked.

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