Miami (August 25, 2020) .- The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) regretted that international press freedom principles are still being violated in Paraguay through subjecting journalists to serving prison terms for reporting and investigating irregularities committed by public officials. This in reaction to a case that could punish the director and a journalist of the newspaper ABC Color with imprisonment.
In a trial scheduled for the next few weeks, the director of ABC Color, Natalia Zucolillo, and a journalist of that newspaper, Juan Carlos Lezcano, could be sentenced to two years in prison for reporting on irregularities in public management. The former deputy minister of the State Undersecretariat of Taxation (SET), Marta González Ayala, sued the journalists for publications against her. ABC Color stated that it published the information based "on public data from Public Procurement as well as citizens' complaints supported by documents."
The legal team of the former official announced that she will request, "The maximum sanction established in the Penal Code, which is a custodial sentence of up to two years, plus financial compensation for the damage." Paraguay is one of the few countries in which defamation crimes have not been decriminalized, which has a negative impact on the due transparency of public administration and on the work of the media and journalists, as the IAPA has been proclaiming for decades.
IAPA President Christopher Barnes and the president of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Roberto Rock, expressed that "we are concerned about the damage caused to journalistic work and freedom of the press with this type of intimidation strategy." They added, "This type of coercion is observed in countries where defamation crimes have not yet been decriminalized, a weapon used mostly by public officials to keep their public work without transparency."
Barnes, director of The Gleaner Company (Media) Limited, Kingston, Jamaica, and Rock, director of the La Silla Rota portal, Mexico City, recalled that the decriminalization of defamation crimes has been strengthened by jurisprudence and opinions of the Court and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights establishes that "the protection of reputation must be guaranteed only through civil penalties" to prevent journalists from going to jail for exercising their right to report, criticize or express opinions.
Barnes and Rock warned, however, against the trend in some countries to seek disproportionate million-dollar compensation awards, which also have an intimidating effect against the work of the press.
Several American countries have decriminalized defamation, including Argentina, Bermuda, Chile (partial), El Salvador, Grenada, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, the Dominican Republic (partial) and Uruguay. In Honduras and other countries, legislators continue to debate the issue.
The IAPA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 publications from the Western Hemisphere; and is based in Miami, Florida, United States.