Argentine journalist accused of instigating police strike, lootings faces sedition charges

By Travis Knoll

Juan Pablo Suárez, editor of the Argentine digital newspaper Última Hora, faces sedition charges after being accused of helping instigate the police strikes and widespread looting that swept the country last week, newspaper Clarín reported.

On Dec. 9, Suárez videotaped in the province of Santiago del Estero the alleged repression by several police chiefs of an officer who was protesting for pay raises, according to Argentine news outlet TN.

Later that day, a provincial court ordered a search on the offices of Última Hora and found, according to court documents, pamphlets complaining about police salaries and instigating violence and looting, which were allegedly distributed at several police stations, Clarín informed. According to TN, provincial authorities also seized computers and other electronic devices from the newsroom.

Suárez was arrested during the search and has been in detention since then.

"This accusation is not only untrue, but we consider it to be a mockery toward a person being falsely accused," Última Hora said.

Suárez has already testified about the case and may be released soon, his defense attorney told Última Hora. His case now heads to a federal court.

The Argentine Journalists’ Forum (FOPEA) has condemned the prolonged detention and asked the government to provide specific details about the evidence they have gathered against Suárez.

The organization also criticized the use of sedition charges against the journalist.

"The use of these charges have an enormous potential of limiting freedom of expression because of the great ambiguity in their application," the organization said. "It is dangerous that an accusation based on this crime can be used, in any part of of the country, against any journalist or media outlet that reports on topics of enormous institutional gravity, like the recent lootings and police crisis."

The arrest comes amid rising tensions between President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the police force in Argentina over demands for higher wages. Fernández has blamed the police for inciting the violent wave of lootings that, according to the L.A. Times, has left 13 dead and 200 injured.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.