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Journalist harassed, threatened in Tartagal

(FOPEA/IFEX) - FOPEA reports that José Piedra, a journalist from FM Chaco radio station, was harassed and threatened, presumably as a result of his reporting on allegations that the police had mistreated several suspects in a murder case. The incident took place on 12 May 2010 in Tartagal, Salta. Piedra filed a report with the Tartagal Public Prosecutor's Office that same day, in which he said that he feared for his and his family's safety.

At approximately 2 a.m. on 12 May, a number of men pounded and kicked the front door of the home that Piedra shares with his wife, son and mother. Piedra was not at home at the time, but his wife's shrieks alerted a neighbour and the attackers fled the scene. The neighbour later identified one of the men as a police officer.

At approximately 4 a.m. that morning, as Piedra was returning home after a night shift at the radio station, he saw several men sitting in a white vehicle about half a block from the station. Piedra overheard one of the men talking into a walkie-talkie and reporting on Piedra's movements. Several blocks ahead, Piedra spotted a minivan from the Salta Police Investigations Unit with four or five men and heard a loud voice say, "Now you are going to see what's going to happen." Piedra ran away. Three blocks later, he noticed that he was being followed by a police car with three or four passengers, whom he was unable to identify. The car drove past him slowly, then turned around and stopped in front of him. Once the journalist walked past the car, it drove away in the opposite direction.

Piedra believes this incident is related to his reporting on the murder of Evangelina Pisco, a teenage girl from the Chorote indigenous community. The murder has led to an investigation against the police about alleged mistreatment of three suspects in the case.

The teenager disappeared in early May. Although a relative insisted that the girl had fallen into a sewer drain, the police nonetheless detained three suspects, turning the investigation into a criminal matter. Police sources later revealed that the suspects confessed to the crime and had even provided details of how they had slit the victim's throat and cut her body up. However, six days later, Pisco's body was found in a sewer and an autopsy revealed that she had drowned.

The head of the Chorote community alerted Piedra, who was the first journalist to report that this could be a case of police mistreatment and harassment. Piedra also broadcast the suspects' version of events. The three young people have since filed a complaint about the mistreatment.

Piedra said that the incident has made him afraid. On 13 May, he sent his family out of the province. Since the incident, he has had two bodyguards accompany him in his daily activities; he says that it is affecting his work.

FOPEA demands that the provincial authorities guarantee the safety of Piedra and his family and conduct a thorough investigation into the incident.

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