Missing radio journalist found 17 months after vanishing

New York, July 16, 2007—A Paraguayan radio reporter resurfaced last week in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, almost a year and a half after he went missing in northern Paraguay. The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed the news that Enrique Galeano was found alive, and it called on Paraguayan and Brazilian authorities to fully investigate the case. 

Two Paraguayan journalists discovered Galeano’s whereabouts during their own investigation of the case, according to news reports and CPJ interviews. Galeano told them he had been seized from his home, taken to Brazil, and told to keep silent or his family would be killed. Galeano, who is now seeking asylum in Uruguay, could not be reached by CPJ for comment today; intermediaries said his contact information was not immediately available.

“We are extremely relieved to hear that Enrique Galeano is safe and healthy,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We urge authorities to investigate the journalist’s account thoroughly and to provide him and his family with the necessary protection. National borders should not interfere with this investigation.”

Andrés Colmán Gutiérrez, an investigative reporter for the Asunción-based daily Última Hora, told CPJ that he and veteran journalist Oscar Cáceres met Galeano in Sao Paulo last Wednesday. Cáceres, an advisor to community radio stations, had worked with Galeano before his disappearance. Gutiérrez and Cáceres met Galeano at the Sao Paulo offices of Organización Regional Interamericana de Trabajadores, an international labor union. 

Gutiérrez said he had first contacted Galeano on Tuesday in an Internet chat room where criminal activities in northern Paraguay were being discussed. Galeano had proved his identity by showing digital photos and giving details about his personal life.  

Galeano told the two journalists that on the afternoon of February 4, 2006, two unidentified men who spoke Portuguese kidnapped him on his way to his home in the town of Yby Yaú and forced him into a car. The next morning, the assailants drove the radio reporter across the Brazilian border and threatened to kill him and his family if he ever returned to Paraguay, Gutiérrez told CPJ.

The captors did not specify their motive, but Galeano told Gutiérrez that he had received several anonymous death threats after reporting on links between the local government and drug traffickers.

Galeano said that he hid in São Paulo for fear of what could happen to his family. He told Gutiérrez and Cáceres that he had come forward now because he believed enough time had passed for the threat to have abated.

The radio reporter relocated to Uruguay this weekend and has requested political asylum, Vicente Páez, secretary general of the Paraguayan Journalist Union (SPP), told CPJ. As a precaution, Galeano’s wife and four children were moved to a safe house run by the Catholic Church in Asunción, Páez said. Phone calls made by CPJ to Yby Yaú prosecutor Camila Rojas went unanswered today.