Authorities raid Argentine news office and confiscate material

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  • November 5, 2014

By Lucia Benavides

Argentine police have raided radio station and news website La Brújula 24 and confiscated journalistic materials. According to reports from the city of Bahía Blanca, in the Buenos Aires province, local police arrived at the news office with a court order signed by Federal Judge Santiago Ulipano Martinez.

The raid was immediately condemned by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which insists that it violates the basic principles of press freedom as protected by Argentine law.

“We call on Argentine authorities to return all the confiscated material and allow La Brújula 24 to continue reporting on a case of public interest without further obstruction or harassment,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas.

Starting in February of this year, La Brújula 24 began airing recordings of telephone calls involving Juan Ignacio Suris, a businessman imprisoned on charges of money laundering and ties to drug trafficking. Suris has denied all charges, insisting that he was “framed.”

While the Argentine government obtained these phone conversations via wiretaps and is presently using them in the case against Suris, it is unknown how La Brújula 24 obtained these recordings. The phone calls that have been aired, in addition to incriminating Suris, also implicate police and government officials.

The raid, which was carried out on Oct. 28, came in light of a portion of a recording, aired by La Brújula 24, that portrayed an unidentified drug trafficker – presumed to be Suris – talking of his friendships with a local judge. The station had been promoting the broadcast, which was scheduled to air later in the week. The police raid of the office came two days ahead of that date.

According to Germán Sasso, one of the directors of La Brújula 24, Judge Martinez ordered these raids in order to uncover the source that leaked the recordings to the news outlet. The judge, however, claimed the orders came from the Office of the Attorney General. After breaking into the building, authorities searched on computers, thumb drives, and through other journalistic material looking for information related to the Suris recordings.

“While material was being confiscated, the same judge who authorized the raid did not raid the homes of the police men involved in the supposed political protection network,” Sasso told La Nación. “We’re worried.”

Lawyers representing La Brújula 24 plan to file a request to null the raid, under accusations that it violated constitutional rights held by the publication. “Journalists have a constitutional protection, but the judge doesn’t seem to understand it,” Sasso added.

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.