IAPA Midyear Meeting 2018

Medellín, Colombia

Some developments contrary to press freedom have occurred during the current administration, especially in recent months after the attempt to reelect President Horacio Cartes was rejected by Congress.

These developments include a legislative proposal to regulate Internet content, intimidation of a journalist for refusing to reveal her sources for reports of irregularities in government, and the death threat issued by drug cartels against a journalist in the border region.

In December, the Chamber of Deputies rejected a bill proposed by Édgar Ortiz of the PLRA to force Internet service providers to remove postings that are offensive or defamatory in nature. More than 20 civil society organizations submitted a letter to Congress opposing the bill, calling it contrary to freedom of expression and adverse to journalists and their sources. The bill would have applied to social media postings on political parties and legislators. The Science and Technology Committee of the lower chamber rejected the bill on the grounds that it was unconstitutional and a violation of press freedom.

In March, ABC Color journalist Mabel Rehnfeldt—who on her radio program "ABC Cardinal" played recordings of phone conversations that exposed acts of extortion and influence peddling by Óscar González Daher, a former senator and former head of the Judicial Oversight Panel—was subpoenaed to reveal her sources. The journalist refused, citing Article 29 of the Constitution, which states that journalists cannot be forced to reveal their sources. In late March, Sandra Quiñónez, the new attorney general, stated that press freedom would be upheld and announced that the two prosecutors in the case of the audio recordings, Claudia Morys and Josefina Aghemo, were being audited even though both of them had withdrawn from the case before the audit was announced.

In November, a dealer in a microtrafficking ring in Caacupé placed a bounty on the life of ABC Color correspondent Desiré Cabrera, offering 25 million guaraníes to anyone who would "make her travel." This was in response to her reporting on lawless areas in Caacupé where drug traffickers and other criminals operate. The dealer in question was Blas Alfonso Brítez López, aka "Beibi'I," who was sentenced in August 2017 to three-and-a-half years in prison but later, under alternative sentencing provisions, was found to have served his term without even having set foot in prison.

Other significant developments:

In October, the press demonstrated outside the National Institute for Rural and Land Development (INDERT) to denounce the threats issued by the head of INDERT, Justo Pastor Cárdenas, against a journalist for ABC Color newspaper. These threats stem from a journalistic investigation into the increase in his wealth, as evidenced by extravagant furniture purchases for which he is under investigation.

In November, Manuel Gómez, a journalist for the Génesis radio station in the city of Alberdi, was threatened after he denounced acts of corruption in the municipal government involving Mayor Federico Ramón Centurión Acosta. The journalist was threatened and assaulted by a group of people led by city councilwoman Dionisia Amarilla; Jorge Ríos, a city council candidate; and Faustino Amílcar Centurión, the mayor's brother. They told Gómez that his life would be in danger if he didn't stop publishing information about the mayor.

In December, Judge Nilda Giménez considered a motion to strip the immunity of Senator Víctor Bogado (ANR), brought by the defense of ABC Color editor Aldo Zuccolillo to put the legal dispute with the senator on equal terms. The judge accepted a lawsuit from Bogado against Zuccolillo for defamation and summoned the parties to a settlement hearing in October. The defense then asked court to level the playing field by removing the senator's immunity. The case stems from a story that ran in September on a person who worked for Bogado and was paid a double salary as an official of both the binational agency Itaipú and the Chamber of Deputies.

In November, in the ongoing trial for the double homicide of Pablo Medina and Antonia Almada, the prosecution brought charges against Wilson Acosta Marques (currently at large) and Flavio Acosta Riveros (now incarcerated in Brazil)—the brother and nephew, respectively, of former Ypejhú mayor Vilmar Acosta Marques—as the perpetrators of the killing. In December, the court found Vilmar "Neneco" Acosta Marques guilty of ordering the killing of ABC Color reporter Pablo Medina and his assistant, Antonia Almada. The two were gunned down on a rural road in Villa Ygatimí on the afternoon of October 16, 2014, in retaliation for Medina's reporting on the Acosta family's ties to drug trafficking and other crimes in the area. Acosta was sentenced to 29 years in prison plus an additional 10 years of confinement as a security measure. The sentence was appealed, but the appeals court has yet to issue its ruling.