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Argentina3 August 2007

In cases recalling military dictatorship, one journalist beaten by police, another threatened by priest

Reporters Without Borders voiced outrage today at the arbitrary arrest and beating of Darío Illanes of the El Tribuno regional daily by plain-clothes police using a car with no licence plates on 1 August in the northwestern city of Salta. The assault occurred while Illanes and other journalists were visiting a detention centre for minors.

“This violent police unit using a car with no plates recalls the worst hours of military rule when police and soldiers kidnapped government opponents,” the organisation said. “Illanes was the victim of an unacceptable attack on his journalistic freedom and dignity as a human being for daring to investigate the highly sensitive topic of detained minors. Administrative sanctions against the policemen involved will not suffice. The federal authorities must intervene.”

Illanes said he and several other journalists had gone to a detention centre holding about 100 minors with the aim of asking about a protest the previous day. From their cells, children and adolescents were telling them about cases of alleged mistreatment when three plain-clothes policemen arrived in a car with no plates, grabbed Illanes and hit him.

They then took him to a cell out of view of the other journalist and continued to beat him. His colleagues could hear his cries for help and finally managed to obtain his release after an hour and a half. With injuries on various parts of his body, Illanes filed a complaint against the police for assault.

Salta police chief Gilberto Pereyra later said the incident would be investigated and that the three policemen had been suspended. But he also accused Illanes of being in an “unauthorised sector.”

The worst years of the military dictatorship were evoked by another incident this week. Freelance investigative journalist Alfredo Silletta and his family were threatened on 31 July by Father Carlos Miguel Buela, the founder of an extreme right-wing Catholic group called the Institute of the Incarnate Word.

The threat was made after Silletta had an interview with Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires and head of Argentina’s bishops, about the negative influence of such groups within the Catholic church, which was the subject of a book he wrote.

Buela sent Silletta a letter with a highly-charged verse from the bible: “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung about his neck and he were cast into the sea (Luke 17, 2). May He have mercy on your soul.” It is being seen as an allusion to the way the military disposed of its opponents during the dictatorship by drugging them and tossing them into the River Plate from helicopters.

“The Catholic church’s involvement with the military regime make this kind of comment all the more unacceptable,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The episcopal conference must sanction this priest and the judicial system should also deal with him.”

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