The offices of Argentine newspaper Río Negro, which were ransacked on March 23, 2021, in the city of General Roca, in Río Negro province. (Río Negro)

Argentine newspaper office ransacked, journalist threatened following reporting on sexual assault

Miami, March 24, 2021 — Argentine authorities should immediately investigate the attack on the Río Negro daily newspaper and its staff, and threats to its journalist Luis Leiva, and bring those responsible to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Yesterday at about noon, a group of approximately 100 people entered Río Negro’s offices in the city of General Roca, Río Negro province, ransacked the premises, assaulted several workers, and made death threats to Leiva, according to news reports and Italo Pisani, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.

Many of the attackers are clearly identifiable in video of the attack, and many wore vests identifying themselves as members of the Argentine Workers’ Central Union (CTA Autónoma), a national trade union.

The attack took place minutes after a Rio Negro judge filed sexual harassment and assault charges against Miguel Báez, leader of the Organization of the Unemployed in Struggle (ODEL), a branch of CTA Autónoma, according to those reports, which stated that the attackers were members of the ODEL.

Leiva, a Río Negro reporter, has covered the case against Báez since it began with a worker’s complaint in April 2020, Pisani told CPJ.

“Argentine authorities must swiftly conduct an investigation to identify those responsible for the attack on the headquarters of the Río Negro newspaper and the threats to journalist Luis Leiva,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Those involved in the attack, who were clearly aiming to silence an investigation into sexual harassment and assault charges, must bear the legal consequences of their actions.”

The attackers entered the building and demanded to see Leiva, who was not at the newspaper at the time; they then demanded that he resign and wrote graffiti on the walls reading “Death to Leiva,” Pisani said.

The attackers then poured alcohol and paint on a receptionist and insulted her, punched a photographer, and destroyed documents and computers in the office, according to news reports and Pisani.

The attackers also hung up posters featuring the faces of Leiva, the woman who filed the sexual abuse complaint against Báez, and that woman’s lawyer, and sprayed graffiti reading, “Tell the truth Leiva” and “liars” on the building’s walls, according to those reports.

Pisani immediately called the nearby Third Roca Police Station and activated an alarm connected to the station, but officers took more than half an hour to arrive; by that time, the attackers had already destroyed the front office and left the scene, he told CPJ.

“The police came after the attackers had left. That made us even more worried,” Pisani said.

He told CPJ that the attackers ransacked the front office and tried to access the newsroom, located on the second floor, but could not get through the locked and armored door protecting that area.

The governor of Río Negro, Arabela Carreras, condemned the attack on Twitter and promised to investigate the police department’s inaction, as did the province’s chief of police, Osvaldo Tellería, according to Río Negro.

On the day of the attack, the newspaper filed a complaint to the prosecutor’s office, providing video footage and pictures of the attackers, and the provincial prosecutor general has been in touch with the outlet regarding an investigation, Pisani told CPJ.

He added that police officers have been stationed at the newspaper’s office and Leiva’s home to provide protection.

CPJ emailed the CTA Autónoma for comment, but did not receive any reply. CTA Autónoma issued a statement saying it had no connection to the attack, and that the ODEL branch is an autonomous member of the union, according to news reports.

CPJ called the Organization of the Unemployed in Struggle at the phone number listed on its official Facebook page, but the call did not go through. CPJ called the Third Roca Police Station for comment, but the person who answered said that only a more senior officer could comment, but that officer was not available.

 “We are a 108-year-old newspaper, and we had never seen an event like this,” Pisani told CPJ.