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Argentinian journalist continues to suffer judicial persecution

(RSF/IFEX) - 30 October 2012

Mr. Julio César Alak
Minister of Justice and Human Rights
Buenos Aires

Dear Justice Minister Alak,

Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that defends freedom of information, would like to express its deep concern about Néstor Omar Pasquini, the owner and manager of Radio FM Show, a local radio station in the province of Córdoba. The all-out judicial persecution to which this man has been subjected for nearly six years demands a response.

The case goes back to 4 December 2006, when the inhabitants of Corral de Bustos staged an angry and violent street demonstration about the rape and murder of a two-year-old girl, Ariana Sabache. It ended with the municipal courthouse and a judge's car being set on fire. A total of 40 people were arrested, including Mr. Pasquini and a journalist with another radio station, Hugo Francischelli, on charges attempted arson, inciting violence and bodily injury.

The two journalists were placed in preventive detention from 20 December 2006 until 16 March 2007, when they were released for lack of evidence. Thereafter, only Mr. Pasquini was subjected to further persecution.

The Córdoba Higher Court of Justice (TSJ) curiously ordered a second period of preventive detention for Mr. Pasquini and two other suspects on 28 June 2007.

Although he had never tried to elude the justice system, he was returned to prison on 3 July 2007. He was released for the second time after the lawyers then defending him, Cecilia Pérez Correa and Claudio Orroz, petitioned the Córdoba TSJ on 13 March 2008.

Despite the doubts hanging over the evidence against him, which should have secured his acquittal, he was sentenced on 12 September 2011 to seven years in prison for his alleged role in the Corral de Bustos violence, was immediately sent to Bell Ville prison to begin serving the sentence, and has been there ever since. His new lawyer, Alfredo Brouwer, filed two appeals with the Córdoba TSJ – one on the substance of the case and the other against the refusal to release him provisionally although the verdict is pending appeal and therefore not final and although the same court previously granted him a provisional release.

The second appeal was rejected on 3 October 2012. Since then Mr. Brouwer has been appealing against his client's imprisonment before the National Supreme Court of Justice (SCJN) and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. The appeal on the substance of the case is meanwhile still pending – a delay which we regard as indicative of a serious failure in the judicial system.

As his lawyer has pointed out, the charges against Mr. Pasquini are based on the testimony of three people, far short of the approximately 200 statements that his lawyers have collected in his defence. One of the prosecution witnesses has since retracted his testimony, while the others are local judicial employees whom Mr. Pasquini had previously criticized.

The Corral de Bustos judicial authorities had every reason to have a grudge against Mr. Pasquini, because he had implicated them in alleged corruption. In view of what had happened in the past, the case should have been held elsewhere to ensure impartiality. Was the violence of 4 December 2006 used as a pretext for personal vengeance by local judges against someone who was a thorn in their side? We have every reason to believe this hypothesis.

We have never been aware of a situation like this in Argentina, where journalists are no longer supposed to run any risk of imprisonment in connection with their work ever since libel, defamation and insult were decriminalized in November 2009. We are convinced that the federal authorities cannot allow this judicial anomaly, which has arbitrarily deprived Mr. Pasquini of his freedom, to continue indefinitely.

I thank you in advance for the attention you give to this letter.

Christophe Deloire
Reporters Without Borders secretary-general

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