In these last six months a serious threat to press freedom in the country has come to light because of an espionage scandal – the interception and control of telephone communications of a female journalist of the newspaper ABC Color by senior officers of the Military Forces, without legal permission and in flagrant violation of several articles of the Constitution and Penal Code.
There have also taken place new attacks upon journalists and news media. Several members of the press have reported threats by government officials and political authorities, and there are obstacles to compliance with the Law on Access to Public Information.
In June demonstrators backing the mayor of Ciudad del Este, Sandra McLeod de Zacarías, of the National Republican Association (ANR) of the Colorado Party, and former city councilwoman and ANR branch chair, Aída Molinas, beat up the editor of the newspaper Vanguardia, Nelson Zapata. He suffered injuries to the head and a broken rib and filed a formal complaint about the matter to the Ciudad del Este Public Prosecutor's Office.
In June ANR senator Víctor Bogado filed a criminal lawsuit for alleged defamation, calumny and libel against the editor of the newspaper ABC Color, Aldo Zuccolillo, demanding 500 million guaraníes (about $90,000) in damages on the basis of some comments made in May in an interview granted to the newspaper La Nación in which he was described as "loan shark" and "lazy."
Some days earlier Bogado was denounced before the District Attorney's Office for Economic Crimes and Anti-Corruption by the Lawyers Coordinator, who demanded the opening of an investigation for wrongful collection of fees, illicit enrichment and trafficking in influences, as a result of investigations published in ABC Color concerning the salary of Cinthia Centurión Amarilla, the domestic servant of the Bogado family who charged a salary as an official of the Electoral Justice Board. Bogado is known for the case of the "golden babysitter." Gabriela Quintana Venialgo had two contracts, one as an official of the Chamber of Deputies and the other as official of the bi-national entity Itaipú and earned 17 million guaraníes (some $3,000) a month even though she was the babysitter of Bogado's daughters. The Public Prosecutor's Office filed a charge in October 2013, but the case remains deadlocked.
The ABC Color editor's legal team requested the impeachment of the senator in order to go to court under equal conditions. The Appeals Chamber has not yet ruled on this.
In July supporters of Ciudad del Este Mayor Sandra McLeod de Zacaría of the ANR party group beat up Vanguardia newspaper photographer Ever Portillo as he was taking photos of a quarrel in the town square where the supporters were celebrating the rejection of a request by various social and opposition organizations for action by the Commune.
In September unidentified persons threw a grenade which exploded on the roof of Radio Amambay in the town of Pedro Juan Caballero, Amambay province, located some 310 miles from Asunción. The radio station belongs to the family of Authentic Radical Liberal Party (PLRA) senator and currently Senate president Robert Acevedo and his brother, local mayor José Carlos Acevedo. Two people were injured in the attack, the perpetrators not yet having been identified.
In September unidentified persons shot up the offices of the newspaper La Jornada in Ciudad de Este, located 218 miles from the capital. A total of 18 9mm projectiles struck the doors and were embedded in armchairs and walls inside. The shots came 24 hours after a hooded man set fire to a car parked outside the building but that did not belong to any of the employees there. The newspaper's editor, José Espinola, explained that in recent weeks several notes had been published on various police actions which had led to the reprisals.
In September two unidentified men on a motorcycle shot at journalist Mario Dante of radio station San Luis FM in the town of General Delgado, Itapúa province. He was returning home after having aired a recording in which Congressman Édgar Ortiz of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party (PLRA) declared that thanks to him the General Delgado Municipality, whose mayor is the Liberal Florentín Benitez, was not attacked.
In September Police Relations Chief Elisa Ledesma spoke of the possibility of fully or partially stopping the protection of ABC Color correspondent Cándido Figueredo in Pedro Juan Caballero, who has been receiving constant threats and whose office in that town had been shot at on various occasions. He has been under police protection 24 hours a day for more than two decades after years of death threats for his coverage of organized crime and drug trafficking. In 2015 he was awarded the Committee to Protect Journalists" International Press Freedom Prize.
On July 2 there began the interception of corporate cel phone calls of an ABC Color journalist who published a series on the wife of Military Forces Commander General Luis Gonzaga Garcete that shows how she collected a salary without working. Members of the military obtained all the telephone numbers that the reporter called and those from which she received calls.
To intercept the journalist's calls General Gonzaga Garcete sent to Asunción equipment and personnel specifically devoted to the fight against the anti-terrorist group Paraguayan People's Army (EPP). This weakened the resources in the north of the Eastern Region, and on July 27 there occurred in that region the kidnapping of teenager Franz Wiebe by the EPP.
The spying was conducted without the knowledge of the Public Prosecutor's Office, without legal permission to legally intercept communications and in violation of several articles of the Constitution and of the Penal Code on the inviolability of communication.
Several public and private organizations came out in defense of press freedom and against the spying unconnected with the military and intelligence needs.
Having been confirmed the fact that on July 2 and 4 there was extracted data on incoming and outgoing calls by the ABC Color journalist who was investigating the military leadership, on August 30 the Public Prosecutor's Office declared the operation to be illegal due to lack of judicial command. On September 12 Defense Minister Diógenes Martínez announced in a press conference that he would put all the structure of the Defense Ministry at the disposal of the Executive Branch for the investigations and commented that the publication of certain documents had caused the case to be sent to the military justice system.
In September ABC Color published documents that prove there were members of the military infiltrated in the student march of September 2015, in marches by the Pyahura Paraguay Party (PPP) and in civic activities such as the last municipal elections that took place in November 2015. On September 8 a group of 50 students of the National Secondary Students Federation (Fenaes) held a demonstration in front of Mburuvicha Róga (the official residence of the Paraguayan President) to protest against President Horacio Cartes for having ordered the infiltration of members of the Armed Force in marches by organizations of students, farmers and leftists.
On October 16 it will be two years since the murder of journalist Pablo Medina, ABC Color correspondent, and in which also lost her life was his companion Antonia Almada. The case has not even reached the preliminary hearing – which is the stage prior to an oral and public hearing – due to the fact that the Appeals Chamber, made up of Gustavo Britez, Belén Agüero and Carlos Domínguez,, has still not resolved the delaying tactics of the defense.
Given a negative by the Military Forces Command which declared as "secret and reserved" the curriculum of General Luis González Garcete, commander of the Armed Forces, ABC Color reporter Mabel Rehnfeldt submitted on September 28, International Access to Public Information Day, a formal complaint against this military chief.
The action, taken in the number 5 Criminal Court, presided over by Judge Alcides Corbeta, requests to learn of General Garcete's service record, considering that there is no Paraguayan law that makes the requested information secret or reserved. The request for access to the curriculum was made within the framework of a journalistic investigation into acts of corruption.
State authorities, civil society and foreign experts commemorated on September 28 the International Right to Universal Access to Information Day.