Report to the 70th General Assembly

Santiago, Chile

October 17 – 21, 2014

Press freedom suffered ups and downs in this period. The positive news of the enactment of a law on access to public information contrasted with the murder of three journalists, Pablo Medina, Fausto Alcaraz and Elías Fernández Fleitas, in the interior of the country, in apparent reprisal for their denunciations of the connivance of drug traffickers and public officials.

In September President Horacio Cartes enacted Law No. 5,282 "On People's Free Access to Public Information and Governmental Transparency," which requires government bodies and officials to divulge information requested by any citizen about salaries, official trips, contracts and other data not defined as secret. The law will go into effect in 2015.

In this way rules were issued concerning Article 28 of the National Constitution, "On the right to be informed." In the law's first article it is contemplated that "no ruling of the enacted law shall be understood or be used to deny, reduce or limit freedom of expression, freedom of the press or freedom to practice journalism."

Previously, in May, it was announced that the executive branch of government will create at year-end a Web site with all the information regarding public bodies (expenses, number of staff, salaries, etc.). The step is part of the Open Government program, an international initiative with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

It was learned through press investigations and denunciations of the huge and wrongful salary benefits of a select group of public officials in various branches of government. The social media channeled public repudiation of the disclosures of corruption, nepotism, over-payment of salaries and inequality of pay.

The reaction of civil society increased with the airing on social media of a video showing intimate relations of the senator and vice chairman of the governing party, the National Republican Association (ANR), Juan Carlos Galaverna, and three women, two of them Congress officials. Added to this was the ban on reporting about the affair after a legal petition was filed by the senator's lawyers.

In July criminal law judge Patricia González, through Definitive Sentence No. 47 of August 6, granted the legal protection sought by Senator Galaverna, who called for the action so as not to have the video and images of sexual content divulged, propagated or published.

The judge extended the ban to television channels Teledifusora Paraguaya (Canal 13), LaTele (Canal 11) and Telefuturo (Canal 4) and the newspapers Popular and Crónica. Then the 2nd Tribunal of the Appeals Court upheld the ruling banning showing of the video.

Chronology of the most significant events in this period:

In April Congress Speaker Julio C. Velázquez, of the Colorado Party ANR, annoyed by published reports about budgetary wrongdoing, said that the funds for food in the Senate were directed not only to 45 senators but also to officials, police officers "and journalists," as providing for these latter an economic menu, ready-made food, that is handed out on Thursdays (session days) at the Communication Office.

In May the then head of Petropar, Fleming Raúl Duarte Ramos, as part of the celebration of Workers Day told the employees that the oil company "will be taking all the corresponding steps" against those officials that provide information to the press. During the previous administration, headed by Liberal Sergio Escobar Amarilla, there was unleashed a "witch-hunt" against any official suspected of giving information to the press.

On May 16 radio journalist Fausto Gabriel Alcaraz, 28, host of the morning show "De frente a la mañana" (In Front of the Morning), which was broadcast Monday to Friday from 7:00 a.m. to noon by 570 AM Radio Amambay in the city of Pedro Juan Caballero and owned by Liberal Senator Robert Acevedo, was shot to death by two individuals who followed him on a motorcycle. They intercepted and shot him before he could enter his home.

Alcaraz had named some local drug traffickers. Acevedo accused the drug cartel of committing this crime.

Alcaraz was known for his controversial accusations against police officers, prosecutors, judges and businessmen of acting in connivance with drug cartels on the border with Brazil. He was also known for his controversial questionings of the current Amambay governor Pedro González, also belonging to the Authentic Radical Liberal Party (PLRA) and a political enemy of Acevedo.

On June 19 Elías Édgar Pantaleón Fernández Fleitas, 43, was fatally shot six times by two hitmen. The crime was committed shortly after the end of his show "Ciudad de la furia" (City of Fury) broadcast by 89.3 FM Belén Comunicaciones in Concepción. The radio lawyer and host was arriving at his home when one of two men on a motorcycle entered the office there and fired several shots. It is presumed that it could have been an ordered murder, due to the fact that in his program he used to denounce wrongdoing, especially in matters concerning the judicial branch of government and the Attorney General's Office.

In June Judge Lourdes Sanabria in a report to court officials accused the newspaper ABC Color of publishing tendentious and ill-intentioned reports critical of her and a colleague. Then a hearing into her performance in an oral trial for drug trafficking confirmed the wrongdoing and ruled that the ABC Color reports were not tendentious and ill-intentioned.

In July Encuentro Nacional party Congressman Hugo Rubin urged news media to withdraw reporters from Paso Tuyá, Concepción province, where teenager Arlan Fick had been kidnapped. He explained it was necessary to leave the area free of journalists so as to obtain a better rapprochement between the kidnappers and the young man's family.

In July the Ciudad del Este diocese announced in a communiqué that the parties affected by a publication concerning an alleged son of pastoral priest Daniel Silvera that it is considering taking legal action against the newspapers ABC Color and Vanguardia.

In July officials of the Senate and Congress, with exception of the members of the Chamber of Deputies, rose up on a "war footing" against journalists of various news media, accusing them of being "the cause of the reduction of benefits" following the decision of Senate President Blas Llano (of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party) of cutting back their bonuses from five to four a year.

In September, after ABC Color correspondent Miguel Ángel Rodríguez complained of the presence of vehicles with the logo of the Entidad Binacional Yacretá (BY) bi-national entity at a political act held in Ayolas an official of the bi-national hydro-electric body, Alen Saúl Espinola, the right arm of the entity's consultant, Carlos Arrechea, threatened to harm him and "get him thrown out of the newspaper."

On September 26 the Appeals Court in the city of Caazapá upheld the stay of action, without guilt or punishment, against ABC Color correspondent in Caazapá Antonio Caballero, who in June 2008 had been charged with an alleged case of extortion by businesswoman Beatriz Gamarra.

On October 16, Pablo Medina, correspondent of ABC Color in Curuguaty, department of Canindeyú was murdered while investigating issues relating to drug trafficking. The vehicle in which the 53-year old journalist was traveling was intercepted by two men dressed in camouflage suits who shot from short distance. He travelled with his assistant Antonio Almada, 19 years old, who died of his injuries. Another woman identified as a farming leader of the zone was unharmed.

Medina had been threatened over his allegations on drug trafficking, corruption, illegal logging and lumber trade in the zone. He usually had police protection and used to wear a bulletproof vest. His brother, Salvador Medina, radio journalist who also denounced the trafficking was murdered in 2001.