Posts Tagged ‘Reporters Without Borders’


Press freedom orgs react to massacre of journalists in Paris

The Society of Professional Journalists International Community joins the worldwide outcry against the murder of 12 journalists in Paris Tuesday.

Masked gunmen entered the offices of the French weekly satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo the morning of Jan. 7, opening fire with semiautomatic weapons on staff, including prominent editors and cartoonists of the publication, according to a New York Times article.

Media outlets report the attack came from Muslim extremists as a result of the paper’s satirical depictions of Prophet Muhammad.

“Extremists feel emboldened to attack and kill journalists anywhere in the world for lampooning religion or reporting on political and governmental activities,” said SPJ President Dana Neuts. “Such outrageous attempts to silence journalists will not be tolerated or successful.” (Read full SPJ statement here)

French President Francois Hollande described the attack as an act of terrorism and vowed to protect freedom of speech in the nation.

“No barbaric act will ever extinguish freedom of the press,” Hollande said in a statement on his official Facebook page. “We are a country which will unite and stand together.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists described the shooting as “the worst attack on the media since the 2009 Maguindanao massacre in the Philippines,” where 57 people, most of them journalists, were killed by gunmen while en route to cover a local election.

“An attack of this nature in Paris shows that threats against freedom of expression are global, no region is safe from it,” CPJ posted on twitter, while also changing its profile picture to a black background with the words “Je Suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) printed across.

Since 2011, the offices of Charlie Hebdo have been under police protection after the paper was fire-bombed shortly after publishing a cartoon depicting Prophet Muhammad, according to the French-based agency Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontiers).

“This terrorist attack marks a black day in the history of France,” said Reporters Without Borders Secretary General Christophe Deloire, who was at the scene of the shooting.

SPJ member Jennifer Karchmer, who lives in Montpellier, France, and happens to be visiting a fellow journalist in Paris, shared her account of the day’s events:

“We’ve learned the city is under high alert but are considering attending a public demonstration being held at Place de la Republique,” Karchmer said. “We are watching CNN international news and monitoring social media.

“I am in touch with friends in the south of France where I live in Montpellier and they are attending demonstrations to condemn the attacks. The entire country is worried, shocked and responding. The French do not miss a beat. A list of cities with planned demonstrations was published soon after the attacks.”

Karchmer, who has worked as a correspondent for Reporters Without Borders, said today’s shootings are “an egregious attack on freedom of speech and freedom of information.”

“Working in France would seem a safe place to publish and print, yet after today, we realize we are living under new pressures to censor information,” she said.

More comments on the attack from press freedom organizations around the world:

Open season on journalists in Paraguay

Impunity for the murder of journalists is hardly a new phenomenon in Latin America, but the ambush-style killings of four Paraguayan journalists in a year and a half has stirred domestic and international outrage and plunged an already beleaguered government into crisis.

Pablo Medina. Photo courtesy of ABC Color

Pablo Medina. Photo courtesy of ABC Color

The most recent killing was that of Pablo Medina, 53, an investigative reporter for the country’s leading daily, ABC Color, who was gunned down on the afternoon of Oct. 16 while returning from an assignment in Canindeyu department near the Brazilian border, a hotbed of marijuana cultivation and drug smuggling. He was shot four times in the chest and face with a 9-mm pistol and once with a shotgun by two men on motorcycle wearing camouflage fatigues.

One of his passengers, Antonia Almada, 19, also was hit and died en route to a hospital. Her younger sister, Juana, escaped unhurt.

Suspicion focused immediately on the mayor of the town of Ypehu, Vilmar “Neneco” Acosta, scion of a politically connected family suspected of large-scale marijuana cultivation and trafficking, as the intellectual author of the ambush. Juana Almada identified one of the gunmen as Acosta’s brother, Wilson. The two brothers are subjects of an Interpol warrant and are believed hiding in Brazil, where Vilmar Acosta has dual nationality and, reportedly, political friends.

Medina, who had worked for ABC since 1998, had received numerous death threats for his reporting on drug trafficking in Curuguaty department and had been under police protection for a time. His brother Salvador, a radio journalist, was murdered there in 2001, apparently by drug traffickers. His murder remains unsolved.

President Horacio Cartes, elected in 2013, decried the murders of Medina and Almada and told journalists, “I feel like we’ve all been killed.”

His government came under intense domestic and international pressure to bring the killers to justice. The Paraguayan Journalists Union, Catholic Church, Inter American Press Association, Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and the director of UNESCO all demanded action.

Paraguay is a landlocked country of 6.7 million people with an area the size of California. Courtesy of the CIA's World Factbook

Paraguay is a landlocked country of 6.7 million people with an area the size of California. Courtesy of the CIA’s World Factbook

A major break in the case came with the arrest on Dec. 8 of Arnaldo Cabrera, Vilmar Acosta’s driver. Reportedly embittered that he had been abandoned in a remote area without money or weapons and fearing for his own life, Cabrera confirmed that Wilson Acosta was one of the gunmen and that the other was the two brothers’ nephew, Flavio Acosta.

Cabrera said Vilmar Acosta planned Medina’s death in July, at his birthday party, surrounded by family. He claimed Acosta wanted revenge because Medina’s reporting had led to Vilmar Acosta and his father, Vidal, being convicted and imprisoned in 2011. Medina had reported that human remains were buried on the Acostas’ ranch. Investigators unearthed three skeletons.

Ironically, when Medina was gunned down, he was working on a story about pesticide contamination in local soybean plantations, not marijuana trafficking.

“It was a tragic event that has affected us very much,” said ABC reporter Natalia Daporta in an email. The paper carries daily updates on developments—or lack of them—in the investigation.

Public protests, a rarity in Paraguay until the recent advent of social media, erupted after Medina’s death, prompting the Congress in November to launch a 45-day investigation, which has been shrouded in secrecy. The lower house also impeached two Supreme Court justices on suspicion of having been overly lenient toward drug traffickers, and forced the resignation of a third. The justices had been instrumental in overturning a ban on Vilmar Acosta’s running for mayor because of his dual citizenship, and they released him from prison two days before he was elected mayor!

 "WANTED," declares this poster published by ABC Color of Vilmar Acosta, the accused intellectual author of the Oct. 16 ambush murder of ABC investigative reporter Pablo Medina. Acosta's brother and nephew were identified as the triggermen. All three are subjects of an Interpol warrant and are believed to be hiding in Brazil.

“WANTED,” declares this poster published by ABC Color of Vilmar Acosta, the accused intellectual author of the Oct. 16 ambush murder of ABC investigative reporter Pablo Medina. Acosta’s brother and nephew were identified as the triggermen. All three are subjects of an Interpol warrant and are believed to be hiding in Brazil.

Medina had dubbed Congresswoman Cristina Villalba the drug dealers’ “godmother” and alleged she was Vilmar Acosta’s protector. Villalba admitted Acosta had telephoned her after Medina’s death to proclaim his innocence. She volunteered to acquiesce her legislative immunity to be investigated if requested by a judge; no judge has yet requested it.

Paraguayans, and international journalism organizations, are now watching to see how seriously the government seeks to extradite the Acostas from Brazil, whether the investigation will uncover their collusion with governmental officials and, if so, whether anything will be done.

“CPJ is encouraged by the initial progress made by Paraguayan authorities in the murder of Pablo Medina and Antonia Almada,” commented Carlos Lauria, Americas program coordinator for CPJ. “But authorities must now ensure that all those involved in the crime, including the mastermind, are brought to justice.”

Brazilian Attorney General Rodrigo Janot pledged on Dec. 16 to make every effort to capture the suspects.

Paraguay, a landlocked country of 6.7 million people with an area the size of California, has a long history of dictatorship and corruption. The country was ruled by the autocratic Gen. Alfredo Stroessner from 1954 until he was overthrown in 1989. Its nascent democracy has been unstable, and two presidents have been impeached and removed. Transparency International ranks Paraguay the third most corrupt country in Latin America after Haiti and Venezuela. It has long been notorious for smuggling operations, first of stolen automobiles and contraband cigarettes, and in recent years of guns and drugs.

ABC Color newspaper offices in Asunción, Paraguay (Photo by Robert Buckman)

ABC Color newspaper offices in Asunción, Paraguay. Photo courtesy of Robert Buckman

ABC Color, founded in 1967 by businessman Aldo Zucolillo, is the dean of the country’s press. It was closed during the last five year’s of Stroessner’s regime for its overly aggressive reporting of public wrongdoing. It sells about 29,000 copies daily through street-corner kiosks.

There are now only two other dailies: Ultima Hora, which was closed for its aggressive reporting and biting editorials and cartoons for 30 days in 1979, and the younger, business-oriented La Nación. All are published in the capital, Asunción.

There are a handful of privately owned television stations with news operations, which are more reactive than proactive. The country’s most influential medium remains radio.

Thus, it is no surprise that the other three journalists slain since 2013 were all radio journalists.

Marcelino Vásquez, director of the radio station Sin Fronteras (Without Borders) in Pedro Juan Caballero on the Brazilian border, was gunned down by two men on a motorcycle on Feb. 6, 2013.

Fausto Gabriel Alcaraz, a reporter for Radio Amambay in Pedro Juan Caballero, was shot 11 times, also by two men on a motorcycle, on May 16, 2014.

Three weeks later, on June 9, Edgar Fernández Fleitas, an attorney who hosted a radio program called Ciudad de la Furia (City of Fury) for Radio Belén in the southern city of Concepción, was shot to death at his office. A suspect was arrested later that month, but the motive was unclear.

For decades, the so-called Tri-Border area where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet has long been a lawless zone frequented by smugglers, Nazi fugitives and Islamic terrorists. Its subtropical climate, fecund soil and porous borders have made Paraguay Latin America’s second-largest marijuana producer after Mexico.

Robert Buckman, Ph.D., is an associate professor of communication and SPJ chapter adviser at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Buckman worked at the U.S. Embassy in Paraguay from 1977-79, when Stroessner was cracking down on the press’ attempts to report on corruption. He visited the offices of ABC Color during a trip to Paraguay in 2013.

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