Paraguayan journalist killed along border with Brazil is third to die this year
Paraguayan journalist Pablo Medina Velázquez, murdered in the northeastern Canindeyú department while working on assignment, is the third journalist to be killed in the country this year and the latest in a series of journalists to be killed in the region in recent years. His death underscores the dangerous and deteriorating conditions for journalists working along the Brazilian border.
Paraguayan Journalists Union Facebook image, calling for justice for Pablo
Thirteen years ago, his brother and fellow journalist, Salvador Medina, was murdered in the same region, which is notoriously controlled by drug traffickers. Salvador was 27 years old when he was killed for announcements he made on Ñemity FM, the radio station where he worked at the time. Like his brother Pablo, Salvador also reported on regional drug trafficking activity.
Pablo Medina, who worked as a regional correspondent for ABC Color, the largest daily newspaper in the country, was returning from a reporting visit to the Ko’ê Porã indigenous community last Thursday when two men wearing camouflage stopped his vehicle. According to reports from ABC Color, the men asked Medina to identify himself before shooting him several times in the chest and head.
One of the two assistants traveling with him, 19-year-old Antonia Almada, was also killed in the altercation.
Medina has been a target of repeated threats due to his coverage of marijuana production and drug trafficking activity in the eastern region of Paraguay. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Nelson Zapata, Medina’s editor at ABC Color, told a local radio station that Medina had received threats "almost since he started out in journalism."
While Medina had worked alongside state-assigned police protection in previous years, those services were withdrawn in September 2013. The police believe that drug traffickers are responsible for the murder and have currently arrested four suspects in the case.
Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes was quick to denounce the killing, issuing a statement on Thursday afternoon: “Our government regrets and condemns this murder that not only threatens the peace of our country, but is also a direct violation of human rights and an attack on freedom of expression in our country.”
But many believe the state must assume greater responsibility to prevent further crimes against journalists in Paraguay, a country that currently ranks 105th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
“The authorities must also shed light on the reason why Medina was no longer under police protection, given that he was the target of constant threats,” said Lucie Morillon, the program director for Reporters Without Borders. “Threatened journalists must be given protection. A state has a duty to protect journalists working in its territory and to combat impunity for crimes of violence against them.”
Her sentiments were echoed by the Paraguayan Journalists Union (SPP), who met this Monday, Oct. 20, with the Paraguayan Minister of the Interior, Francisco de Vargas, to ask for greater protections for journalists in the northeastern region.
“We are living in a state of narco-politics in this country,” said Santiago Ortíz, the Secretary General of SPP. He warned that if the Ministry of the Interior did not take measures to immediately address the problem, that “it will destroy the social base of this country.”
The death of Medina comes amidst a spike in violence against journalists across the country. Two other journalists have been murdered in Paraguay this year. In May, Fausto Gabriel Alcaraz was killed after reporting on the country’s drug trade while Edgar Pantaleon Fernandez Fleitas, a radio host who denounced judicial corruption, was killed in his home in June.
In a statement released Friday, the Organization of American States (OAS) stated that “It is fundamental that the State clarifies the motive behind this crime and urges the authorities to thoroughly investigate the hypothesis that the crime could have been associated with the journalist’s work and punish the perpetrators and masterminds behind this crime.”
Carlos Lauría, the Americas Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), also issued a statement urging “authorities to quickly and thoroughly investigate and prosecute this crime and not allow the cycle of impunity to accelerate."
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