04 April 2014


Freedom of the press and freedom of information have not faced major setbacks in this period, aside from isolated incidents. In a positive development, a freedom of information bill was passed by the Senate in December. Another significant development was a request—which went unsatisfied—for a list of all officials on the congressional payroll, which led to public support for a vigorous pro-transparency campaign in the press and through social media, as well as a large demonstration against the misuse of government funds by members of Parliament. Some officials were found to have been using the public treasury to pay not only their political staff but also their farm laborers and even their nannies, at exorbitant pay rates that were never actually paid to the intended recipients but instead ended up being lumped together with their already bloated income. The online edition of ABC Color posted a feature allowing the public to search the names of government officials to denounce new, previously unknown cases of nepotism and corruption, which led the judicial branch to step in and seek to lift the immunity of a number of legislators. A proposed law to regulate access to public information is on the verge of being passed by Congress. The bill was submitted in December 2013 by a group of senators representing the major political parties, such as the Colorado Party and the Authentic Radical Liberal Party. Also supporting the bill is the left-leaning Progressive Democratic Party. Article 1 of the proposed law sets forth exemptions to the freedom of information, while Article 22 establishes the concept of “classified information,” which will include information labeled or determined to be classified or defined as such by law, or information that, if disseminated, would compromise public safety or national security, undermine international relations or the course of related negotiations, or harm the financial and economic stability of the State. The law would allow for an appeal to be filed with the Office of the Secretary of Public Service, and for a separate appeal to be brought before a judge. The list of exemptions is taken from Uruguayan law. Most of them, however, are already adequately reflected in Paraguayan law, as in Articles 84-86 and Article 91 of Law 861/96 on Banks, Financial Entities, and Other Lending Institutions; Articles 322-326 of Law 1268/98, the Criminal Procedural Code; and Articles 12-13 of Law 1337/99 on National Defense and Domestic Security. The notion of classified information is established in Articles 23 and 71 of Law 1630 on Patents and Inventions; Article 4 of Law 1682/01 with the amendment to Law 1969/02, which regulates private information; and Articles 27-29 of Law 1680/01, the Children’s Code. In December 2013, the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court referred the case of businesswoman and former model Zunilda Castiñeira and her attorney, Julio Vasconsellos, to the judicial oversight body after holding that they had litigated in bad faith against Sandra López, a journalist for the newspaper ABC Color. Justices Alicia Pucheta, Sindulfo Blanco, and Luis María Benítez Riera dismissed the claims submitted on August 2, 2012, and September 11, 2013, by Castiñeira and Vasconsellos. On June 30, 2011, in the defamation case brought by Castiñeira, Justice Manuel Aguirre acquitted López after reviewing her June 2009 opinion piece titled, “If this isn’t influence peddling, what is?” In December, a ruling by Judge Nelio Prieto of Ciudad del Este, ordering ABC Color to delete the names of Fredy Cuéllar Soler y Claudecir da Silveira Savino from several of their previously published stories, was overturned by an appeals court in Alto Paraná. Justices Isidro González Sánchez, Lorenzo Derlis Rodríguez Elizaur, and Miryam Meza de López vacated Resolution 29 of November 25, 2013, in which Judge Nelio Prieto had granted a “habeas data” petition on constitutional grounds. Cuéllar and Da Silveira had objected in their respective petitions to news stories from 2006, 2007, and 2010 that implicated them in a car-theft ring at the Brazilian border and in cigarette smuggling. They claimed that the newspaper’s website “compromises good name, reputation, and their image in conducting commercial and business activities.” Judge Nelio Prieto granted both petitions, on the grounds that the petitioners had no criminal or police record and that the story posted on the Internet compromised their rights. He ordered Editorial Azeta S.A.—which publishes ABC Color—to “delete, erase, and remove” the petitioners’ names from all stories from the dates in question. ABC Color appealed the ruling. Represented by attorneys Porfirio Garcete and Yrma Núñez, the newspaper claimed that “a newspaper is a publication that endures over time, like any book, magazine, or newsweekly. The published stores that are made available to the public are not subject to updates, modifications, deletions, or additions … therefore, any claim that a published story should be updated or deleted is an attack on freedom of information.” The court unanimously ruled as follows: “The website of ABC Color is not a private record of public interest; it is a journalistic source, where all stories published by ABC Color are stored, and therefore none of its content may be modified or deleted through the constitutional provisions related to habeas data.” In January, members of the Paraguayan Human Rights Organization and the Paraguayan Journalists Union went with journalist Paulo López of E’a newspaper to file a complaint with the Special Human Rights Unit of the public prosecutor’s office for having been illegally detained during a protest against a bus fare hike. In January, Alberto Núñez, a correspondent for the newspapers Crónica and La Nación in San Pedro, reported that he had been physically assaulted and abducted by a group of peasants during the occupation of a ranch in Capiibary, San Pedro department. In February, after taking her post as the second deputy chief justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Gladys Bareiro criticized the press for expressing opinions without identifying the journalists, which prevents them from being taken to court. “You can’t be litigating against the editor if the journalist is not identified as the responsible party,” she said. On February 28, the Paraguayan Journalists Union asked the Office of the Attorney General to investigate an incident days earlier in which Julio Colmán, a city councilman for the Colorado Party, allegedly threatened Elías Cabral, a correspondent for Última Hora and Telefuturo in Curuguaty. Colmán, a former national legislator who was apparently upset by Cabral’s stories on alleged acts of corruption, was speaking on the air at a radio station that he owns when he warned “something might happen to” Cabral. Colmán became infamous years earlier when, while a national legislator, he tried to have a cargo of contraband timber released from custody. He was sentenced to plant trees. He habitually uses his radio station to insult his political adversaries in Curuguaty. In March, Bernardo Villalba, a legislator for the Colorado Party, decried the involvement of the public in efforts to have members of Parliament stripped of their immunity. Since late 2013, a number of public demonstrations demanded that this action be taken against several legislators for various reasons, particularly for alleged corruption. Villalba said that the lifting of immunity is the exclusive domain of the judicial branch, and the Constitution does not say that a member of the public can request that a legislator’s immunity be lifted.