Stefan Borghardt is a German photojournalist who came to Neuquen to report about fracking in Argentina and particularly to photograph the development of the Vaca Muerta megaproject. On January 7th he was arrested by the police while he was taking photographs of the activities at the oil waste management plant Treater, in Añelo city, and the pollution caused by this oil deposit. In December, the company had been accused of irregularities by the Mapuche Confederation of Neuquen and different NGOs.
On January 10, Stefan filed a criminal complaint against the police officers who threatened to torture him, arrested him and confiscated his professional photography equipment, demanding him to erase all photos.
The photojournalist offered a press conference and in his statement he summarizes what he went through during the police arrest. On his Facebook page, he wrote about the illegal detention and said that the police officers wanted him to sign a statement, without reading it, and that he was beaten: ““They hit me, kicked me, and one officer harassed me with a broom telling me from a distance that he hated Germans. Another officer insisted that I hurry up taking my shoelaces off, noting he could help me while pulling out a pocket knife to intimidate me. He also said that if they told me to sign a statement, I would have to sign it, that things did not work as I imagined. During all this, I was asking them not to hurt me”.
Both the Neuquen Press Union and other press organizations from Argentina rejected this arrest and censorship. Several colleagues joined the young man while he filed the complaint in Neuquen, in favor of “the right to freedom of information, to the free exercise of journalism and against police pressure in our work”. “Without journalism there is no democracy, without journalists there is no journalism”, they stated.
Emmanuel Guagliardo, Borghardt´s lawyer, said that the police officers were guilty of abuse of power and that an investigation needs to take place “to identify the officers who participated in the operation” and the political and business authorities behind the detention of the journalist.
Guagliardo demanded a meeting with the province´s attorney to ensure an in-depth investigation, and said that the silence from the provincial government did not surprise him.
Update January 11
The photography equipment confiscated was returned to the German colleague assaulted by the Neuquen police officers for photographing the pollution at Vaca Muerta.
The photojournalist Stefan Borghardt met with the Chief Attorney of Neuquen Province, José Gerez, who returned the equipment confiscated by the Añelo police, as reported by Radio Universidad CALF. The Neuquen Press Union was also present.
In a public statement, Gerez said that he always defended freedom of speech, and that he told the photojournalist that if he has photos evidencing the pollution, he should submit them to investigate the case.
At the same time, Gerez asked Borghardt to report if any of the elements confiscated had been damaged.