Vials of coronavirus vaccine are seen in Rosario, Argentina, on December 29, 2020. The municipality of Quilmes recently filed a criminal complaint over journalist Roberto Carrigall's coverage of the vaccine rollout in the area. (AFP)

Argentine municipal government files criminal complaint over journalist’s COVID-19 vaccine reporting

Miami, January 20, 2021— Argentine authorities should drop their criminal complaint against journalist Roberto Carrigall and allow him to work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On January 13, the municipality of Quilmes, a city in Buenos Aires province, filed a criminal complaint to a federal court over Carrigall’s reporting on the municipal government’s alleged mishandling of the coronavirus vaccine, according to news reports, the journalist, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app, and a report by the Forum of Argentinian Journalism, a local free expression organization.

Carrigall told CPJ that he works as a reporter and anchor for the Del Bosque radio station, where he mostly covers local politics, and also posts his reporting on his personal Facebook account.

On January 8, Carrigall alleged in a Facebook post that a hospital run by the Quilmes municipal government had improperly refrigerated 40 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, thereby damaging them.

In its criminal complaint, the Quilmes government argued that the post violated Article 205 of the penal code, which mandates compliance with government disease-control measures, and Article 211, which relates to incitement and intimidation, according to the penal code and the forum’s statement. The complaint has been filed to the federal court, but federal authorities have not filed any formal charges or served Carrigall with a suit, he told CPJ.

If charged and convicted under those articles, Carrigall could face up to six years in prison, according to the penal code.

“Argentine municipal authorities should not be in the business of threatening journalists with jail time over their reporting,” said CPJ South and Central America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “The Municipality of Quilmes should drop its criminal complaint against journalist Roberto Carrigall and refrain from filing such complaints in the future.”

In his January 8 Facebook post, which was republished by the local news website Realpolitik, Carrigall indicated that he tried to contact the Quilmes Health Secretariat for comment before publishing, but did not receive a response.

CPJ messaged the Quilmes Municipality’s official Twitter account for comment, but did not receive any response. After Carrigall published his reporting on Facebook, municipal authorities denied mishandling the vaccine doses, according to press reports.