São Paulo, August 28, 2023—The Paraguayan attorney general’s office should immediately retract letters sent to privately owned newspapers ABC Color and Última Hora demanding the outlets disclose the names of journalists who wrote stories about alleged money laundering, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.
On August 23, ABC Color and Última Hora received the official letters for certified copies of several reports published without bylines and the names of the journalists who authored them.
Three public attorneys—Aldo Cantero, Rodrigo Estigarribia, and Daniela Benítez—signed the letters and gave the outlets a 48-hour deadline to respond. On August 25, the newspapers sent the certified copies but declined to disclose the journalists’ names.
“The Paraguayan attorney general’s office must not be politically manipulated to intimidate the free exercise of journalism, and should immediately rescind letters demanding ABC Color and Última Hora turn over journalists’ information,” said Cristina Zahar, CPJ’s Latin America and the Caribbean program coordinator. “Such actions show a clear disregard for international human rights standards and the Paraguayan Constitution, which guarantees freedom of the press.”
The letter sent to Última Hora asked for a certified copy of a May 13, 2022, report about alleged money laundering involving former President Horacio Cartes. ABC Color was ordered to send certified copies of a June 6, 2022, report and a July 13, 2022, report about Paraguayan senators allegedly discussing money laundering with U.S. elected officials.
Rocio Cáceres, chief information officer of Última Hora, told CPJ that the outlet regularly sends certified copies of stories when requested to prove the text is authentic and complete.
“But why are they asking for the name of the journalist? We usually don’t sign stories that can put journalists at risk,” Cáceres said. “It is crystal clear this is to intimidate us.”
On Thursday, August 24, the Paraguayan Union of Journalists condemned the letters, calling them an attempt to intimidate the media and silence criticism through judicial harassment.
On Friday, the attorney general’s office issued a statement saying it was within its rights “to request information from any public or private entity.” The statement said that journalists had a right to not reveal their sources, but did not mention the demand for the reporters’ names.
Rodrigo Yódice, ABC Color’s lawyer, told CPJ that the statement, “confirms that it is a criminal and state persecution against freedom of expression and the press.”
A press officer for the attorney general’s office responded to CPJ’s request for comment with a copy of that Friday statement. CPJ’s text message to the deputy attorney general did not immediately receive a reply.
In January 2020, Cartes was accused in Brazil of helping alleged moneylender Dario Messer flee to Paraguay. In January 2022, Cartes was denounced before the Paraguayan Secretariat for the Prevention of Money or Asset Laundering for alleged money laundering, illegal enrichment, and false statements. In January 2023, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned Cartes.