Paraguayan journalist shot dead on way back from covering story

Bogotá, Colombia, October 17, 2014–Pablo Medina Velázquez, a Paraguayan journalist who wrote about the country’s illegal drug trade, was shot dead on Thursday along with his assistant, according to news reports. He is the third journalist murdered for his work in Paraguay this year.

A regional correspondent for Paraguay’s largest independent newspaper, ABC Color, Medina, 53, was returning from a reporting trip outside the eastern city, Curuguaty, when his vehicle was intercepted by two camouflage-clad gunmen on a motorcycle, Néstor Cañete, the public prosecutor investigating the case, told reporters.

Cañete said Medina was shot four times in the face and chest with a 9mm pistol, received a shotgun blast to the face, and died at the wheel of his vehicle. He said on Friday that four suspects have been detained.

Antonia Maribel Almada, 19, who was Medina’s assistant and was riding in the vehicle, was also killed in the attack near the village of Villa Ygatimí, according to news reports.

Interior Minister Francisco de Vargas told reporters the attack was related to Medina’s coverage of the booming marijuana trade in Canindeyú department, which borders Brazil and is a major drug trafficking route. Canindeyú has also been the site of violent land disputes, according to news reports.

Vargas said police had been providing Medina with bodyguards, but the journalist was unescorted at the time of the attack. Some media reports said Medina occasionally went out without the protection, if guards were unavailable.

“Pablo Medina was the object of many threats mainly due to his journalistic investigations of marijuana production,” Vargas told reporters.

However, on the day he was killed Medina was covering a story about the alleged use of toxic pesticides on farmland, according to news reports.

“The murders of Pablo Medina Velázquez and his assistant Antonia Maribel Almada mark a sharp uptick in violence for Paraguayan journalists this year,” said CPJ Senior Americas Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría in New York. “We urge authorities to quickly and thoroughly investigate and prosecute this crime and not allow the cycle of impunity to accelerate.”

Paraguay is Latin America’s second largest producer of marijuana after Mexico and is a major transit route for cocaine bound for Brazil, according to Insight Crime, a think tank that tracks organized crime in Latin America. It is also considered one of the most corrupt countries in the world by the anti-corruption watchdog organization Transparency International.

In 2001, Medina’s brother, radio journalist Salvador Medina Velázquez, was killed after denouncing political corruption, according to CPJ research, and his death prompted Pablo Medina, who was already working for ABC Color, to temporarily flee Canindeyú department.

Nelson Zapata, who was Pablo Medina’s editor at ABC Color for many years, told a local radio station that Medina had been receiving threats “almost since he started out in journalism.”

Two other journalists were murdered in Paraguay this year. On May 16, Fausto Gabriel Alcaraz Garay, a radio journalist who often denounced drug trafficking and organized crime, was killed in the city of Pedro Juan Caballero in the violent border state of Amambay. On July 19, Edgar Pantaleón Fernández Fleitas, a lawyer who hosted a radio program in which he denounced political corruption, was shot dead in the city of Concepción.