Reporters Without Borders called today for the immediate release of Córdoba province-based journalist Néstor Pasquini, who has been held without trial for eight months on charges of inciting violence, aggravated arson and causing minor injuries during a riot he was covering in a small town.
The owner of local radio station FM Show and correspondent of the Red Panorama radio network, Pasquini was initially held from 20 December 2006 to 16 March 2007 on the same charges. The Córdoba province superior court sent him back to prison on 3 July 2007. The court’s criminal chamber is due to look at his case on 24 March.
“We have only just learned that Pasquini was reimprisoned,” Reporters Without Borders said. “This case is outrageous for several reasons. By prosecuting Pasquini, the provincial judicial authorities seem to be confusing an observer of an event with its perpetrators. He was at the scene simply to do his job as a journalist. That is the first cause for outrage.”
The organisation continued: “Another reason for outrage is the arbitrary nature of the decision to send some of the defendants back to prison and not others. Why Pasquini? Why him and two other co-defendants? Pasquini never tried to flee. Finally, how can one account for the fact that this man has spent eight months in prison without trial, especially when there is no evidence against him? This is denial of justice, and we call for his immediate release.”
Pasquini and another reporter, Hugo Francischelli of radio FM 97.3, covered a riot on 4 December 2006 in the locality of Corral de Busto in which the courthouse and a judge’s car were torched. The riot was sparked by the rape and murder of a 3-year-old girl. Pasquini and Francischelli were among the approximately 40 people who were arrested. After more than three months in pretrial detention, the two journalists were freed for lack of evidence on 16 March 2007 (see release of 26 April 2007).
The case appeared to have been shelved until the Córdoba province superior court ruled on 28 June 2007 that, because of the “gravity of the events,” Pasquini, a lawyer and a bricklayer should be returned to prison pending trial on the same charges. Pasquini was re-arrested on 3 July and has been held ever since at Villa María prison. He faces a possible sentence of three to 15 years in jail.
Lawyers Cecilia Pérez Correa and Claudio Oroz asked the superior court’s criminal chamber on 13 March to rescind the pretrial detention order. The chamber is due to issue its ruling on 24 March.
Pérez told Reporters Without Borders that Pasquini’s imprisonment was a “violation of the constitution.” She said it “responds more to the need to justify the existence of a judicial authority which is dysfunctional and could not remain with its arms folded after the Corral de Bustos court was set on fire.”