One of the most widely-read local newspapers, the Diario Extra, filed a complaint against the Public Security Ministry and the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) after photos and videos were confiscated from one of its correspondents earlier this month.
Photographer Elías Alvarado had followed local police on the long trek to the site of the Friday, May 1 helicopter crash near Cerro de la Muerte in the rugged Talamanca mountain range, arriving at the crash site on Saturday morning.
“Because of the time of day, the climate and the jungle-like conditions of the accident site, no journalist and no media outlet dared to penetrate the area to get more information,” read the complaint filed jointly on May 5 by Diario Extra, the daily La Prensa Libre and television’s Canal 42, all of which are members of the media company Grupo Extra. “The only volunteer who offered to go was media correspondent Elías Alvarado, who decided to go on (Friday), along with a group of police and members of the Red Cross.”
When they arrived at the crash site they found two corpses and a sizable stash of cocaine among the twisted wreckage of the helicopter. Representatives from the Public Security Ministry later confirmed that there were more than 347 kilograms of cocaine on board the helicopter and the bodies were those of a former Public Security Ministry pilot Edgar Arguedas, 36, and Mexican national, identified by newspaper sources as Germán Trejos.
Upon return to a base camp at the foot of the mountain on Sunday, Alvarado was treated for hypothermia and fatigue, according to the complaint. The following day, before he could transmit information to any media outlet, Alvarado was interrogated by judicial police and forced to hand over his camera’s memory card, which included all the video and photos of the accident scene, according to the complaint.
“Elías was ordered not to call the media groups he worked for to inform them of what he had seen and learned,” read the complaint, adding that he was threatened with prison and possible arrest if he disobeyed.
The president of the Costa Rica Association of Journalists, Raúl Silesky, expressed disappointment with the conduct of the judicial police.
“We plainly reject this type of action that violates the exercise of freedom of expression and is an abuse of authority that should not be repeated,” Silesky said.
“The authorities involved should give a legal explanation and…return the material seized immediately.”