Reporters Without Borders today condemned the arrests of radio journalists Néstor Pasquini and Hugo Francischelli, who were present at a riot on 4 December in Corral de Bustos, a small town in the north-central province of Córdoba, in which a courthouse was destroyed and a judge’s car was torched. Held since 20 December, they are charged with inciting violence, arson and minor injuries and face between three and 15 years in prison.
Calling for their immediate release, Reporters Without Borders said there appeared to be a miscarriage of justice. In a case in which the death of a young girl led to serious disturbances, it was regrettable that the authorities preferred to make scapegoats out of journalists who were just covering the events, the press freedom organisation said.
The 4 December rioting was prompted by the rape and murder of a small girl, in which the judicial authorities charged the girl’s mother with murder and two men with murder and sexual assault.
Prosecutor Carlos Ernesto Viramonte issued warrants for the arrest of 10 people in connection with the riot. The list include Pasquini and Francischelli, who were at the scene covering the disturbances. They were arrested at their homes 16 days after the events. The authorities are still looking for two other people on the list.
Pasquini is the owner of local radio FM Show, and the correspondent of radio FM Panorama. Francischelli hosts a programme on radio FM 97.3.
“They are making scapegoats out of the journalists, they want to intimidate the media in order to silence them,” Reporters Without Borders was told by Fernando Cabrera, the producer of the programme En Contacto, who is campaigning for Pasquini’s release. “It is no coincidence that the arrests were carried out just a few days before the holiday period,” Cabrera added. “He is still being held incommunicado and will undoubtedly spend New Year’s Eve in prison as well.”
To the claim by the judicial authorities that the two journalists incited a violent protest outside the courthouse by nearly 1,000 people, Cabrera responded: “Pasquini was working so it was logical that he would be in the middle of the revolt.”
The prosecutor decided to transfer the two journalists and six other detainees to the police station in the nearby town of Marcos Juárez to avoid any possibility of reprisals by local residents.