Miami, July 23, 2020 – Paraguayan authorities must thoroughly investigate the detention and assault of journalist Roberto Esquivel and ensure those responsible are held to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On July 18, Paraguayan soldiers detained Esquivel, a local freelance journalist, in the city of Bella Vista Norte, near the Brazilian border, while he was reporting on the country’s shutdown amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to media reports and a statement by the Paraguayan Journalists Union, a local trade group.
In a video of the detention shared on social media, about five soldiers are seen grabbing Esquivel on the street and placing him in the back of a truck. Esquivel later told local media that the soldiers handcuffed him, covered his head with a balaclava, and hit him without any explanation. He received bruises on his face, torso, and arm, according to reports.
The soldiers drove Esquivel to a local police station, briefly detained him there, and then released him without charge, according to Marta Ezcurra, president of the Forum of Paraguayan Journalists, a local trade and press freedom group, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.
“Paraguayan authorities must act to ensure that the members of the military responsible for the unjustified detention and assault of journalist Roberto Esquivel are identified and brought to justice,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Journalists must be able to report on the effects of COVID-19 without fear of being assaulted by security forces.”
At the time of his detention, Esquivel was documenting the pandemic lockdown to post on his social media accounts, Ezcurra said. Esquivel frequently posts about local news on his Facebook page, where he has about 4,000 followers, and also contributes to local news outlets, Ezcurra told CPJ.
After his release, Esquivel published a video report on his Facebook page about local businesses that were shut down in Bella Vista Norte.
Following the journalist’s release, the Paraguayan army published a statement alleging that soldiers had seen a person matching Esquivel’s description attempting to cross the border illegally and said that soldiers detained him after he refused to present his identification.
The human rights unit of the Paraguayan public prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into the incident, Ezcurra told CPJ.
CPJ emailed the Paraguayan Army Command for comment, but did not receive any reply.