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Paraguay

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Last updated on 14.02.2018 at 05:57

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One of the poorest countries in South America, Paraguay was also among the last to transition to democracy.

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Justice prevails in the case of murdered journalist Pablo Medina

Justice prevails in the case of murdered journalist Pablo Medina

A former mayor was sentenced to 39 years in prison for his involvement in the murder of journalist Pablo Medina.

Expression

On 14th December 2017, it was reported that Vilmar Acosta Marques, former mayor of Ypejhú, Canindeyú province, was found guilty of being the instigator behind the murders of journalist Pablo Medina and his assistant, Antonia Almada, in 2014. He was sentenced to 39 years in prison. The court found that "numerous evidence presented at trial showed that Vilmar had threatened Pablo Medina on several occasions". Medina had denounced the former mayor's "involvement in illegal acts", in particular, his involvement in drug trafficking rings. In retaliation, Acosta Marques had his brother and nephew murder the journalist.

The incident occurred in October 2014 when the two men intercepted Medina’s car while he was returning from a reporting trip to the Ko’ê Porã indigenous community. They shot Medina several times and his assistant Almada was also hit and later died. Medina's 27-year-old brother, Salvador, also a journalist, had been killed in January 2001 in the same area close to the Brazilian border, which has been especially dangerous for journalists due to active drug cartels in the area.

Sindicato de Periodistas del Paraguay (Paraguayan Journalists' Union) considers the sentencing "an important step forward that responds to the demands for justice from the victims' relatives, the journalists' association and the society in general".

In a press release, the Union indicated that: 

"This is the first case in which the person who ordered an attack on a journalist and/or commentator has been sentenced in accordance with the crime committed".

Despite the positive court ruling in the case of the journalist's murder, the Union also pointed out that there are 16 other cases of crimes against journalists “where justice remains to be served and where the files have been shelved for years”.

In a separate incident, on 14th December 2017 the Union issued another statement condemning President Horacio Cartes' negative attitude towards journalists. According to reports, Cartes had stated officially that journalists are dispensable and that Paraguay can do without them.

On 24th November 2017, the Paraguayan Association of Community Radios and Alternative Media issued a statement denouncing the discrimination and persecution against community radios taking place under the Cartes government. The National Commission on Telecommunications has reportedly not authorised some community radio stations to operate, even when all necessary requirements for authorisation have been met. However, the Association also stated that several radio stations aligned with the current political party were granted permission to operate in the country, which it considers  a discriminatory act on the part of the authorities. 

Peaceful Assembly

According to a 2017 report by Coordinadora de Derechos Humanos del Paraguay (Coordinator of Human Rights of Paraguay), the two major human rights issues in 2017 included restrictions on and repression of social protests and existing barriers to advancing gender equality. 

Regarding social protests, the two most relevant cases in 2017 were the mobilisations against constitutional reform on 31st March and 1st April that were repressed by police and the peasants´ marches in Asunción in July 2017. 

Association in Paraguay

The Constitution of Paraguay guarantees the freedom of association and no legal restrictions or bans on external funding are in place.

The Constitution of Paraguay guarantees the freedom of association and no legal restrictions or bans on external funding are in place. Although land claims of some indigenous communities have been legally resolved, police raids, harassment by paramilitary forces and illegal evictions continue against others, while numerous peasant farmers are forced to sell their land. Judicial proceedings against peasant farmers are common and human rights defenders face repression, in particular those working for the defence of indigenous communities and against land confiscation. For example, human rights defender Lorenzo Areco, who was killed in 2013, was known for his work assisting farmers with land claims. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, trade union rights are also subject to regular violations, such as reprisals for strikes and delay or denial of registration.

Peaceful Assembly in Paraguay

Although it is constitutionally guaranteed, the right to peaceful assembly is limited by laws imposing restrictions on the time and location in which demonstrations can take place.

Although it is constitutionally guaranteed, the right to peaceful assembly is limited by laws imposing restrictions on the time and location in which demonstrations can take place. The government continues to intimidate protestors, especially students demanding better education, and the police use excessive force against peasants and union workers. Repression has not curtailed the exercise of the right however. On 10 December 2014, International Human Rights Day, thousands – including teachers, public employees, farm workers and human rights advocates – marched in the capital Asunción to protest against homelessness, poverty, and unemployment, and to demand the president’s resignation. Recently, a union protest was met with excessive force by the police, leaving more than 20 people injured.

Expression in Paraguay

The constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of expression and the press are significantly compromised in practice as well as by law.

The constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of expression and the press are significantly compromised in practice as well as by law. Defamation is a criminal offence punishable with fines and prison sentences, and cases against journalists are regularly filed. The media landscape is highly concentrated, with three privately-owned media corporations having the influence to set the national media discourse. Although reporters are relatively safe in the capital city, they face significant danger in remote border areas, where local politicians operate in collusion with drug traffickers. At least three journalists were killed in Paraguay in 2014, and a total of 17 have been killed since 1991. Impunity and fear of reprisals have resulted in widespread self-censorship among reporters covering sensitive areas. Progress has also been registered as Paraguay, already an Open Government Partnership (OGP) member, passed a transparency and access to information law in September 2014 that came into force a year later. A positive development is the Senate decision to reject the approval of the so-called Pyrawebs bill that would have established mandatory data retention, which would have had a negative impact on the right to privacy and expression.

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