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Newspaper and radio station offices damaged during forced entry linked to ownership dispute

This statement was originally published on cpj.org on 6 July 2016.

Argentine authorities should investigate the forced entry and damage caused at the Buenos Aires offices of the newspaper Tiempo Argentino and radio station, Radio América, on July 4, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The newspaper was being run by a journalists' collective after a dispute over ownership earlier this year.

A group of men led by Mariano Martínez Rojas, a businessman who says that he bought the newspaper and radio station earlier this year, allegedly entered the offices in the early hours of July 4, forcibly removed three employees, and vandalized the newsroom, workers from Tiempo Argentino said. The employees in the building at the time of the raid called police and journalists to alert them to what was happening, according to reports. Photos of the offices published in local media outlets after the attack show a smashed wall, broken computers, and cabinets covered in a thick layer of debris and dust.

The newspaper was allegedly sold to Martínez Rojas in January, but journalists at the paper said that after the original owners and then Martínez Rojas failed to pay salaries and costs associated with running the business, they formed a cooperative in March so they could continue to produce news, according to press reports.

A statement by the cooperative said that the men who entered the offices "destroyed important equipment crucial to the editorial process with the clear intention of obstructing the dissemination of the newspaper and its web production." Workers said that the internal network was disrupted when cables were cut throughout the office.

Martínez Rojas told the news site Perfil that his entry to the offices "was authorized by the police," whom he said entered with him. He denied vandalizing the offices and accused a local political youth organization known as La Cámpora of causing the damage. "The newspaper is mine, the brand as well, so is the company," he told Perfil. La Cámpora did not publicly comment on the accusation that its members were involved, but on its website it condemned the raid and described it as a violation of press freedom.

Martínez Rojas and 10 others are facing charges over the forced entry and damage, the Argentine daily La Nación, reported. The businessman was allegedly seen on security cameras and in photos taken by employees during the incident, according reports.

Attempts by CPJ to reach Martínez Rojas for comment were not immediately successful.

"The willful destruction of property in the offices of Tiempo Argentino and Radio América is a clear attempt to prevent the outlets from producing news, and it is concerning that the person who the journalists' collective says is responsible is a businessman who says he owns the paper," said Carlos Lauría, CPJ's senior program coordinator for the Americas. "Argentine authorities must conduct a timely investigation and prosecute all those involved."

CPJ called the local police for comment, but a representative said she was not authorized to speak.

The Buenos Aires prosecutor told journalists at the outlet that they could continue to work and provided them with police security, according to reports.

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