June 4, 2001
His Excellency Luis González Macchi
President of the Republic of Paraguay
Palacio de López
VIA FACSIMILE: 011-595-21-442-777
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned for the safety of Paraguayan journalist Séver del Puerto and his family, who have suffered an onslaught of death threats and harassment in recent weeks. We call on Your Excellency to ensure that these threats are fully investigated, and the perpetrators punished.
Del Puerto is a crime reporter for the Catholic radio station Radio Cáritas-Universidad Católica in Asunción, where he works for the current events radio programs “En el cambio” (“In the Change”) and “El pulso del país” (“The Pulse of the Country”).
The threats against del Puerto are apparently related to his free-lance investigation into the alleged involvement of former interior minister Walter Bower and several Paraguayan judges in an August 2000 robbery at the Asunción International Airport. (Bower is currently a parliamentary deputy for Your Excellency’s Colorado Party.)
Del Puerto had spent five months investigating the robbery, in which a heavily armed band stole 40 billion guaraníes (US$11 million) from armored trucks owned by Prosegur del Paraguay S.A., a private security company. The journalist was planning to sell his story to leading media outlets in Paraguay.
Since May 7, the journalist has received numerous phone calls from anonymous individuals who threatened to kill him and his family. His car has also been followed, according to local sources contacted by CPJ. Del Puerto and his family went into hiding at several different locations.
But the threats intensified on May 14, prompting him to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office, along with video and audio recordings on which an eyewitness accuses Bower of masterminding the robbery. Since then, Paraguayan police have assigned six police agents to protect del Puerto and his immediate relatives, according to local news reports.
On May 20, del Puerto was admitted to the Hospital Universitario, where doctors treated him for an emotional breakdown. He is now recovering at a private clinic, but his colleagues still fear for his life.
On May 22, local and regional human rights activists filed a writ of habeas corpus with the Paraguayan Supreme Court, requesting security guarantees for del Puerto and his family. The signatories included the local press freedom organization Sindicato de Periodistas del Paraguay, the regional chapter of the U.S.-based Center for Justice and International Law, and the local human rights group Coordinadora de Derechos Humanos del Paraguay. The Supreme Court is still considering the request.
As an independent organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues around the world, we call on Your Excellency to ensure that Paraguayan law enforcement authorities identify and prosecute whoever threatened del Puerto and his family. In addition, we urge you to ensure that all journalists in Paraguay may work safely, without threats or intimidation.
Ann K. Cooper