The status of press freedom was marked by several attempts by government officials to interfere with the free practice of journalism, either by resorting directly to force or by using court rulings and legislation. An on-air personality at a radio station on the Brazilian border was murdered. Also, journalists have been physically assaulted and even briefly kidnapped, and have received verbal threats from politicians and authorities after the publication of articles on their questionable or unlawful activities. The tendency to conceal public information continued. This was made evident in the passage of a law that did not include an article guaranteeing access to sworn statements on the assets of public officials. Meanwhile, delays continued in the consideration of bills that would establish regulations for implementing the article in the Paraguayan Constitution on freedom of public information. The judicial branch also played a role by issuing questionable rulings, such as the one against the editor at the newspaper ABC Color. While relieving him of any penalty, the ruling found him guilty of “defamation,” with the apparent purporse of leaving him vulnerable to court sanction in future cases involving high-ranking officials or politicians. The Paraguayan Journalists Union (SPP) announced on March 26 that the newspaper Popular had been censored in order to stop the publication of a series of articles involving President Nicanor Duarte Frutos. The newspaper reported that President Duarte Frutos had given a car as a birthday gift to the daughter of Benjamín Maciel, then speaker of the Chamber of Deputies. On April 2, Carlos Mateo Balmelli and Benjamín Maciel, then speakers of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, respectively, decided to sponsor a bill on freedom of public information. The Paraguayan Constitution guarantees free access to public sources of information, but the lack of regulations has allowed officials to impose obstacles that render this guarantee meaningless. On April 6, the newspaper ABC Color asked the court through its legal advisers to dismiss a lawsuit filed by former President Juan Carlos Wasmosy against the newspaper and two of its reporters, Mabel Rehnfeldt and Nacha Sánchez. The former head of state sought US$10 million in damages for emotional distress and injury to reputation. The newspaper ABC Color published a series of reports on serious irregularities in the procurement of fuel by the state-owned oil company Petropar during Wasmosy’s term as president. On April 6, an appeals court overturned a trial court ruling that had assessed a fine on the editor of the newspaper ABC Color, Aldo Zuccolillo, in a libel suit filed by Juan Ernesto Villamayor, a political figure of the ruling party, Partido Colorado. Judge Dionisio Nicolás Frutos had ordered Zuccolillo to pay a fine to the government for the equivalent of approximately US$15,000, as well as another US$12,000 in damages to the plaintiff. In 1999 ABC Color published a report on meetings held between Argentine businessman Roque José Carmona —who was recently captured in Argentina— and politicians of the Partido Colorado, including the plaintiff, to set up “social loans” to be granted by the bank Banco Nacional de Trabajadores (BNT). The bank subsequently failed precisely as a result of the default on these loans. The appeals court ruled that the articles published by ABC Color cannot be considered a crime “because the news media, in order to fulfill their role as informers, are authorized to disseminate all types of news.” On April 19, the Alto Paraná chapter of the Paraguyan Journalists Union (SPP) released a statement from the offices of the newspaper Noticias in Ciudad del Este, 205 miles (330 kilometers) east of Asunción, condemning the death threat issued by police officers against journalist César Palacios and news photographer Oscar Florentín. On April 21, radio reporter Samuel Román was shot dead by two men riding on a motorcycle, although it is believed that others were also involved in his murder. Román worked at the Ñu Verá radio station in Capitán Bado, a Paraguayan town located just across the border from the Brazilian town of Coronel Sapucaia. Román was killed only a few feet from the border on the Brazilian side, where he lived, as he was heading toward his home. It is suspected that this crime may have been ordered by Brazilian politicians from that town, because Román often questioned them on his program “La Voz del Pueblo” and allowed people to express their opinions in an open-microphone format. The Paraguayan Journalists Union (SPP) denounced to the Senate Human Rights Committee the kidnapping and torture of, and death threats against, Bernardo Vera Roa on April 20, 2004. Vera Roa works at the radio station Tavaguá FM in Ciudad del Este, 330 kilometers (205 miles) east of Asunción. The journalist reported that three men claiming to be police officers told him that they had an arrest warrant and, after getting into the vehicle, took him to a house where unknown individuals demanded that he reveal the whereabouts and addresses of three community leaders who had been interviewed by the reporter on the radio. Vera Roa was freed after a long night of psychological torture. In late April, Wilson Evangelista de Souza, a leading smuggler of stolen cars from Brazil who operates in the Salto del Guairá region, in northeastern Paraguay, and on the Brazilian border, ordered his contacts to find a way to stop the publication of articles involving him, according to a report. The articles were written by journalist Rosendo Duarte, a correspondent for the newspaper ABC Color in Salto del Guairá, as part of his reporting on car smuggling, the lack of safety, and money laundering by Brazilian criminals in the border region. De Souza’s wife got in touch with a well-known local lawyer, who requested a meeting with Duarte in order to inform the journalist of the warning issued by De Souza, and to tell him that De Souza was willing to pay any amount necessary to “freeze” the issue (the articles). On May 11 Prosecutor Rubén Villalba threatened to destroy the mobile units of ABC Color, claiming that they were following his children. As background to this incident, it was reported that Villalba carried out a raid on a property in western Paraguay (Chaco) for counterfeit cigarettes, and on another in eastern Paraguay against drug trafficker Claudair López de Farías. According to the articles, the prosecutor kept several pieces of evidence in both cases without informing the court, and recently made some of the evidence available to the judges after ABC Color ran the articles. The Governing Council (executive board) of the ruling Partido Colorado passed a resolution on May 12 in which it “alert party members and citizens at large to the danger to national stability that is represented by the systematic misinformation campaign being conducted by Aldo Zuccolillo Moscarda, managing owner of the newspaper ABC Color, in the case of the murder of Luis María Argaña.” The resolution was proposed by Alfonso González Núñez, a senator for the “Argaña bloc” who harshly questioned the series of reports published in ABC Color about the death of the former vice president of Paraguay. Also, the Governing Council voted in the resolution to “emphatically reject the editorial line of the newspaper, which manipulates the news in a culpable and negligent manner, ignoring court rulings, harming the reputation of the independent media, and besmirching the honor and hurting the deepest feelings of innocent people.” On June 19, Antonio Barreto, the ruling-party governor of Ayolas in southern Paraguay, assaulted and issued a death threat against William Aquino Medina, a correspondent for ABC Color, in the presence of a delegation from the General Prosecutor’s Office and a business delegation in the process of shutting down a local slaughterhouse that was operating without the necessary permits. The town mayor, who years earlier had gone to jail for alleged administrative wrongdoing, told the ABC Color correspondent not to take any pictures or record anything, or else he would “smash his face.” The journalist carried out his work anyway, and was struck and pushed by the mayor. The mayor then said in the Guaraní language that he had many friends who could finish him off. On July 13, Paraguayan Vice President Luis Castiglioni delivered a demand for payment at the newsroom of the Última Hora newspaper to reporter Jorge Torres for a series of articles on corruption at the telephone company.