Seven officers of the Naval Coastguard are being held on charges of abusing two young members of La Garganta Poderosa, a magazine and grassroots community based in Villa 21-24 in southern Buenos Aires.
According to La Poderosa, 15-year-old Ezequiel Moya and 18-year-old Iván Navarro were stopped by Federal Police (PFA) agents and then attacked by a group of officers from the Naval Coastguard (PNA) on the night of 24th September.
Moya and Navarro were walking in Villa 21-24, where both live, when PFA officers stopped and questioned the pair. After being released, the boys were again stopped by at least three cars, each containing four uniformed officers from the PNA.
The boys say they were pulled into one car and driven to an abandoned site by the Riachuelo river, where they were subjected to a range of physical and psychological attacks. They were made to sit on top of each other and hit in the face and legs, and forced to do push-ups while being threatened with death.
According to the boys’ testimony, the officers stole various items including their shoes, put a knife to their necks, and pointed a gun at Navarro’s head. “One officer said that they would kill us, because nobody would do anything about it,” they added. When they were released, an officer brandished a shotgun and told them to run quickly.
The Facebook page of La Poderosa, which first detailed the incident, shows photos of the boys after the encounter. They have wounded knees and feet and cuts on their lips. One image shows a boy’s back covered in bruises. When La Poderosa went to a local police station to report the incident, they found one of their attackers at the station.
In response to the officers’ claim that they could kill the boys with impunity, on 1st October La Poderosa posted responses from ten high-profile human rights figures denouncing the officers’ actions and calling for swift legal action against the aggressors.
“The torture inflicted on the boys from La Poderosa reflects a reality of impoverished neighbourhoods, where youngsters are being systematically persecuted and harassed,” said Nora Cortiñas, of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo – Línea Fundadora .
“I hope they can identity all the vandals that took part in these physical and moral attacks, so that justice can be done,” added Estela de Carlotto, head of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo.
The criminal judge María Gabriela Lanz, who authorised the arrest of the officers, has ordered an investigation of the incident. Security Minister Patricia Bullrich has not yet made any public statement about it.