Paraguay

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PARAGUAY The most important events affecting press freedom in the past six months include the murder of a radio reporter, the torture of a Brazilian journalist conducting an investigation in the border zone apparently by Paraguayan police, threats against the press and approval by politicians and legislators of a law restricting investigative journalism. On October 19, the Chamber of Deputies approved a bill on “administrative openness and free access to news” presented by Deputy Rafael Filizzola. The bill would require the three branches of government, provincial and municipal governments, the comptroller general’s office and even businesses and private individuals who negotiate for public service work to make public all the information in written documents including sworn statements of assets and all documents involved in such negotiations. However, the bill sets limits concerning personal privacy, state security, secret meetings of Congress and taxpayers’ financial status. On October 30, Judge José Gonzalez Macchi dismissed the criminal complaint against journalist Jorge Villalba Digalo of the daily Ultima Hora, by union leader Eduardo Pérez for alleged libel and defamation. Villalba Digalo had reported in an investigative article on corruption at the National Workers’ Bank that the bank’s assets were stripped because of the ineffectiveness of its oversight board, headed by Pérez. On November 3, Judge Carlos Ortiz Barrios sentenced Agileo Miño Giret, a politician and former mayor of Ciudad de Este, 330 kilometers east of Asunción, to five years in jail for the attempted murder of Héctor Guerín, correspondent of the daily ABC Color. According to records of the case, Miño Giret was detained March 2, 1997, in a park outside Asunción where he had gone to pay $10,000 to a person he had hired to kill the journalist. That person, however, had informed the journalist and the police about the plot. On November 5, Judge José González Macchi dismissed a libel and defamation complaint brought by another judge, Esteban Chávez, against Osvaldo Domínguez Dibb, editor of the daily La Nación. The daily had published several reports about corruption in Chávez’s court. Judge Chávez was later removed from his post by the Judges’ Trial Court after irregularities under his management were proven. On December 11, Judge Alcides Corbetta dismissed a complaint lodged by Miguel Angel Britez, a representative of the governing Colorado Party, against Aldo Zuccolillo, editor of ABC Color, for committing an electoral crime. The complaint concerned the daily’s publication of editorials headlined “Let’s Vote for Yoyito” and “Why We Are Voting for Yoyito” explaining why it supported Julio César “Yoyito” Franco, candidate of the opposition Authentic Radical Liberal Party in the election for vice president August 13, 2000. The complaint alleged that the articles violated the ban on election advertising 48 hours before a vote. But Judge Corbetta ruled that Zuccolillo did not commit any offense because the articles only expressed his opinion, a sacred right in the National Constitution. The judge also said the editorial was not a paid advertisement and the editor was not a candidate or a representatives of any party slate. On December 19, Brazilian journalist Maury Konig, a correspondent of the daily O Estado de Paraná of Foz de Iguazú on the border with Paraguay, said he was tortured brutally in the Paraguayan town of Mabaracayú, 350 kilometers east of Asunción. Konig was attacked by three people, one of whom was wearing a uniform similar to those worn by members of Paraguay’s National Police. The journalist was in Paraguay investigating the recruitment of Brazilian children to do forced military service in police stations in the region. According to the report, police were annoyed when he took photographs in the police station of San Alberto. Later, Konig was stopped by a vehicle carrying three men who got out and attacked him with chains and wooden clubs. The journalist said his attackers were police officers. On December 22, Benjamín Maciel, a legislator of a faction of the governing Colorado Party, proposed a law to regulate the press in reaction to journalistic investigations of possible corruption by some legislators. The concern was heightened when Cándido Vero Bejarano, president of the Chamber of Deputies, said, “all activities should be regulated” when asked about Maciel’s comments. On December 28, Congress approved a law that “regulates private information.” The law is considered “self protection” for public officials. It restricts investigative journalism by prohibiting publication of information about assets and financial solvency of individuals and legal entities without their expressed authorization. Newspaper editorials and other comments described the law as self-protection set up by legislators and politicians to avoid any investigation of where their assets come from. On January 5, Salvador Medina, 27, chairman of the board of the community radio station Ñemity of Capiibary, 300 kilometers northeast of Asunción, was murdered. He was the brother of Pablo Medina, correspondent of the daily ABC Color in Curuguaty, in the same area, and a schoolteacher. Two masked men fired four shots at him, one of which hit him in the chest, killing him. The gunmen fled. The victim’s relatives said later that he had received many death threats because of his radio reports and news published by his brother Pablo in ABC Color, presumably based on information he had provided. The reports concerned a family of criminals in the area and the theft of valuable wood from a forest preserve. Police later detained Milcíades Mailyn, 20, as the alleged killer, but suspicions grew that he had been hired to commit the crime. They also detained a teacher named Timoteo Cáceres, who had differences with the victim, and Daniel Enciso Mailyn. The possibility arose of political involvement, since police reported that a possible murder weapon is owned by Luis Alberto Franco, son of Justo Franco, an official of the Colorado Party in Capiibary. He was a fugitive until being detained on February 21, and the weapon has not been found. Nevertheless, the prosecutor, Ramón Trinidad Zelaya, included him in the trial as a presumed “participant in a crime.” Warrants have been issued for other suspects who are still at large. The relatives of the dead journalist had to leave their community briefly because of threats, which implies that the killer or killers may have the support of powerful people in the region. On January 11, photographer Oscar Florentín of the daily Noticias was pushed and hit by an agent of the police Drug Directorate (DINAR) in Ciudad del Este while photographing a dramatic police raid on a home. On February 8, criminal prosecutor Alejandro Nissen gave radio station 9.70 AM 48 hours to provide him with information on a radio program called “Midday Polemics” conducted by Hermes Rafael Saguier, Alberto Vargas Peña and Adolfo Ferreiro which is critical of the government. The prosecutor asked, “what is the character of their participation in the program and whether they were contracted by the radio station.” He also requested information about when the program was first broadcast, at what time it is transmitted and on what frequency, and “any other information concerning this request.” On February 20, Rocío Fernández, attorney for journalist Elizabeth Palma, requested a 15-year sentence for an employee of the general comptroller’s office accused of hitting the journalist with his car when she attempted to interview the head of the office, Daniel Fretes Ventre, who had been accused of numerous irregularities. The incident occurred on August 17, 2000, the day that Fretes Ventre ended his work as comptroller general. The sentence was requested for driver Calixto Argüello, accused of causing severe injury, failure to assist an injured person and other offenses against Palma. On February 23, Felipe Sanabria, a photographer for the daily Noticias, was brutally attacked by a member of the National Police Special Operations Force (FOPE) while covering a protest of workers and farmers. On February 25, José Espínola, correspondent of the daily La Nación in Ciudad del Este, received telephoned death threats after publishing articles about police officers who were put on trial for extortion and torture. On March 5, Judge Antonio Ocampos ordered Noticias to officially disclose the name of its editor before announcing the sentence in a trial for defamation against it. The charge came from Richard Gómez, who said he was harmed by an article in Noticias on May 13, 1999, under the headline “Richard Gómez is the Third Hit Man in the Argaña Assassination,” referring to the murder of Vice President Luis María Argaña in March of that year. The case against Gómez was dismissed, and he sued the newspaper.

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