Government entities from both the executive and legislative branches have continued their verbal assaults on the independent or critical press, though President Tabaré Vazquez has moderated his personal attacks on media outlets and journalists. On March 16, César Casavieja, an editor for the weekly Señal de Alerta, was beaten in public by an individual who had been described by the journalist as “the most highly sought” drug trafficker in Uruguay. After the beating, the assailant, Amir Alial González, said to Casavieja, “That’s nothing .… Next time you won’t be telling the story.” Three police officers on the scene detained the journalist and let the assailant go free. Casavieja decided to shut down his publication after receiving death threats over the phone against him and his family, and because distributors were not distributing his publication. Amir Alial González has a record of involvement in contraband in Uruguay, and in 2006 more than 90 kilograms of cocaine was found in a load of garbanzo beans he exported to Portugal. Casavieja requested an interview with Interior Minister Daysi Tourné but never received a response. The case is now pending in the courts. In March, Health Minister María Julia Muñoz — one of the leading figures accused of discriminating against media outlets through her ministry’s placement of advertising — attacked the IAPA for publicizing the report approved in Cartagena. On March 22, Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro, the leading senator for the Tupamaro party, and Senator Lucía Topolansky accused the weekly Búsqueda of making up news stories, and charged that the newspaper “plays a role” in Uruguayan politics to hurt the government because it is “the worst of the right wing.” On April 13, photographers from local newspapers and news agencies issued a statement rebuffing the Interior Ministry’s request for published images from incidents during demonstrations protesting the visit by U.S. President George W. Bush to Uruguay. The ministry sought to use the photographs to identify the participants. On May 3, journalist Luis Elisburu of Channel 8 Television in the department of Flores (190 kilometers northwest of Montevideo) said he had been threatened by phone by former police chief Tabaré Sartorio, whom the reporter had criticized for his handling of a police operation in April 2006 in which one suspect and one police officer died. During a session of Congress on June 13, ruling-party senator José Korzeniak attacked the newspaper El País, accusing it of “telling flagrant, grotesque lies” and calling it “a right-wing news organization.” On June 21, during a visit to Montevideo, Ignacio Álvarez, the special rapporteur for freedom of expression of the Organization of American States, deemed it “troubling” that the state-run Uruguayan Institute for Children and Adolescents (INAU) had not agreed to turn over any documents to journalist Gabriel Pastor of the weekly Búsqueda, in connection with an anonymous complaint by phone regarding the alleged abuse of one of the children. Álvarez also expressed concern over the fact that the case remains open nine months after the investigation began. On July 1, a tax reform entailing a substantial tax increase on the press went into effect. The reform eliminated exemptions that the press had enjoyed up until then. However, the government allowed exemptions for other sectors, such as taxi drivers and soccer players. On August 28, Uruguayan Vice President Rodolfo Nin Novoa said at a meeting with business leaders that some “attitudes” by journalists in Uruguay are intended to “destabilize or pressure the government.” In referring to news on the case of Alejandro Guido Antonini Wilson — a Venezuelan with close business ties with the Hugo Chávez administration who was found with US$800,000 illegally in a suitcase at the Buenos Aires airport, and who later traveled to Uruguay and, since returning to his home in Miami, international cooperation in his capture was requested by the Argentine justice system — Vice President Nin Novoa criticized the Uruguayan press that had disseminated statements by Argentine Chief of Staff Alberto Fernández, who said that the mysterious suitcase was headed for Uruguay. Novoa said that publishing this type of news item constitutes an “attack” on the country. On September 3, radio and television journalist Ignacio Álvarez received an anonymous death threat over the phone as he was airing reports of alleged irregularities in the Tele Chat messenger service that each day closes out the programming of Teledoce in Montevideo. “Watch out, Nacho, ‘cause we’ll pump two bullets from the side,” said the unknown voice to a member of the production team of “Las cosas en su sitio” (Things in Their Place), a morning program hosted by Álvarez on Radio Sarandí. Álvarez reported the threat to the police, and the case is being investigated. On September 6, El País newspaper responded to Finance Minister Danilo Astori, who, in questioning by Parliament the previous day, criticized an article in the paper accusing him of trying to pressure the justice system, which must decide what to do with thousands of petitions alleging the unconstitutionality of a tax reform package that has been mainly promoted by Astori, who created an “individual income tax.” On September 18, the journalists’ union APU reported that the state-owned Social Welfare Bank (BPS) opened an investigation into the origin of a news leak and cited two journalists from the weekly Brecha to “question them inappropriately” regarding their news sources. The journalists, Fabían Werner and Walter Pernas, had published an article on August 31 revealing alleged corruption in government-run casinos, involving Juan Carlos Bengoa, the current national casino director. The journalists refused to reveal their news sources, and when they asked their interrogators from the BPS for a copy of their statement, this was denied, thus violating their due process rights. The following developments occurred in the judicial arena: On April 12, criminal court judge Aída Vera Barreta brought an action against Washington Muniz, accusing him of burning a U.S. flag during a protest in Montevideo against the visit by President George W. Bush to Uruguay. On April 17, Judge Julia Staricco sentenced a council member from the department of Florida (100 kilometers north of Montevideo) to 12 months in prison for writing a letter critical of a public school principal, after the letter was published in the local newspaper El Heraldo. The judge ruled that the reputation of the public official questioned by the mayor takes precedence over the right to free speech, and that “it is in the interest of the government to preserve the dignity and respect that should surround their work.” The judge further ruled that the offense of "desacato" (insult) was “especially serious because it was committed through the press.” The council member appealed the ruling and was free on probation because he was a “first-time offender.” On April 18, the Supreme Court definitively upheld a ruling handed down on May 18, 2006 against journalist Gustavo Escanlar Patrone, who had been given a suspended sentence of three months in prison for the offense of "injurias" (insulting or offensive words or actions). On June 19, prosecutor Diana Salvo moved to dismiss the case against Jorge Zavala, a former council member for the Tupamaro party, for burning a U.S. flag while being recorded by television cameras. The prosecutor, whose motion was accepted by Judge Fanny Canossa, said Zavala was acting within his free speech rights, that he did not burn an official emblem of the United States and, furthermore, that his action was not punishable in Uruguay. On August 23, a ruling was handed down against the motion by Judge Estela Sublette, who had filed a suit for damages in connection with criticism for her work made in 2000 by President Jorge Battle and Defense Minister Luis Breeze. An appeals court, consisting of Judges Tabaré Sosa, Marcela Sassoon and Jorge Chadian, ruled that the judges should learn to accept criticism and not think they are “perfect beings” who are “particularly illuminated.” The court held that “judges may be questioned (in their decisions) and there is freedom of speech regarding judicial authority. These are essential elements in the democratic development of society.” On September 3, photographer Nancy Uremia was to appear before a court after being sued for damages on the grounds that she had photographed the plaintiff and published the picture without his consent in the weekly Brecha on May 20, 1987, more than 20 years ago. The plaintiff, who was 11 years old at the time, was carrying a flag of the Broad Front — which is now the ruling party — at a public march organized by the Association of Family Members of the Disappeared to demand “truth and justice.” The photographer registered the image of the child, and the photograph was published. The court sentenced Brecha to pay $1,500 in damages plus interest on the grounds that “both taking the picture and publishing it require express consent.” Fernando Ayala, the plaintiff, is demanding that the journalist pay an additional US$7,000. Also on September 3, Alfaro Riva Rye, editor of El Heraldo newspaper in Florida, was forced to appear in court for the second time in a case pursued by a farmer. The journalist is accused of injuries (insulting or offensive words or actions) for an article published in the newspaper. He was already acquitted on August 4, 2006, on the same charges by the prosecutor’s office and the judge, but Uruguay’s “press law,” in a clear violation of constitutional protection against double jeopardy, authorizes a plaintiff to press charges against journalists for a second time if the first case results in acquittal. On September 7, Judge Graciela Barcelona barred journalists from a hearing in a trial against the government regarding homeless children. On September 10, the executive branch submitted to Parliament a bill to regulate the activities of political parties. The bill included a provision to regulate the press during election campaigns, stating that the media should report “in a balanced manner.” The immediate protest from various news organizations led several senators to announce that this provision would be eliminated. For example, El Observador warned in its lead editorial that forcing news outlets to report “in a balanced manner” shows “ignorance of the work the media does in a free society and, worse yet, conceals the tendency of certain leaders to muzzle the press.” On September 17, David Rabinovich, editor of the newspaper San José Hoy in the department of San José (100 kilometers northwest of Montevideo), filed a complaint against the Uruguayan government with the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) of the OAS regarding a case involving freedom of information, after unsuccessfully trying to obtain records on the municipal budget. Rabinovich later appealed to the justice system, but his petition was twice rejected. Also on September 17, the Supreme Court acquitted Eduardo Zaidensztat, the former director of the Uruguayan tax collection agency, who had previously been sentenced by a lower-court judge to five months in prison suspended for the offense of desacato por ofensa (insult) after making harsh comments about a criminal court judge. In acquitting the defendant, the Supreme Court held that “the international community and the most prestigious experts in criminal law reject desacato as a crime because places public officials in an advantageous position over the general public.” In the last week of September, the newspaper Últimas Noticias was ordered by an appeals court to publish, against its will, a photograph on its front page to correct an error that the newspaper had repeatedly offered to correct. A lower-court ruling, written by criminal court judge Nelson dos Santos, and an appeals-court ruling emphasized that the so-called “right of reply.” The “right of reply” is included in the Uruguayan “press law” and allows the government to order a media outlet to publish — in a place, manner and time of the government’s choosing — text and/or images to refute other text and/or images carried by the outlet, if the latter are deemed inaccurate or insulting by the judges. Government agencies continue to discriminate in the placement of government advertising. A survey of the subject by the Uruguayan Press Association and the Peruvian Press and Society Institute found other cases. On September 6, Michel Visillac, communications adviser for the state-run telephone company Antel, publicly admitted in the pro-government newspaper La República that Antel was using or was preparing to use discriminatory criteria for placing government advertising and urged other government entities to do so as well. He then stated to El País newspaper that “if the company is attacked on a television program, our company’s advertising cannot appear during that program. It would not be logical; it’s like throwing money away. The same thing can happen if a newspaper editorial speaks ill of the company and in the next page there is a full-page ad.” On September 17 the Antel board of directors refused to give any information on its advertising expenses in response to a request from the journalists’ union APU. President Tabaré Vazquez’s government approved the closure of RCTV in Venezuela without hesitation both in the legislature and before the public.