Freedom of Expression

Press release R211/22

SRFOE condemns the murder of journalist Humberto Coronel in Paraguay and calls on the State to reinforce prevention and protection measures for the press.

September 22, 2022

Washington D.C. - The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (SRFOE) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the murder of journalist Humberto Andrés Coronel Godoy in the city of Pedro Juan Caballero, capital of the department of Amambay and on the border with Brazil. This Office urges the State to investigate the crime fully, effectively and impartially, taking into account the informative work as a possible motive for the crime, and to punish those responsible.

According to available information, journalist Humberto Andrés Coronel Godoy was murdered on September 6, 2022 when he was about to get into his car in front of the Amambay AM 570 radio station, where he worked as a reporter. The journalist also worked for Mbykymi Noticias. Reports received by this office indicate that Humberto Coronel was attacked with eight gunshots by an unknown subject who fled. The Attorney General of the State indicated that the Public Prosecutor's Office is investigating the facts to clarify the crime, and assured that a working group had already been formed for this purpose. Also, in this context, the Prosecutor's Office announced that a person had already been charged for the possible perpetration of the crime.

According to public information, in recent months the journalist and his colleague Gustavo Baez had reported death threats to the police, which could be related to their coverage of organized crime in the area. At the time, they referred to a message that had been left on the door of Baez's house, in which he was accused of "knowing many things". The information reported to SRFOE indicates that the authorities had offered police custody to the journalists, which was accepted by Gustavo Báez but rejected by Humberto Coronel; and that the assigned police custody used to guard outside the media premises. The Attorney General's Office of the Republic of Paraguay informed that the two police officers in charge of the security of the place where the murder took place will be investigated since "they were not near the journalist at the time of the attack".

After the murder, prosecutor Katia Uemura - then in charge of the case - publicly stated that neither the police nor the prosecutor's office could be held responsible because "a person under direct threat must protect himself" and "not give himself away", referring to the reporter's alleged refusal to accept protection measures. As far as this Office was able to learn, Prosecutor Uemura was reportedly removed from the investigation. The Special Rapporteur’s Office is particularly concerned about this type of accusations, which have the potential to generate new acts of violence and increase the risk inherent to the journalistic function. In this regard, the Office of the Special Rapporteur has also pointed out that the State's obligation to prevent such acts includes the obligation to adopt a public discourse that refrains from stigmatizing journalists and, instead, recognizes the fundamental role they play in democratic societies. Notwithstanding the above considerations, the Rapporteur’s Office appreciates the apology of the prosecutor, who stated that she had expressed herself erroneously and acknowledged her respect for the work of press workers and journalists.

Civil society organizations and journalists' associations have denounced that the city of Pedro Juan Caballero is one of the most dangerous in the country to practice journalism due to the organized crime networks that operate in this area. In this context, SRFOE was also informed that last May the mayor of Pedro Juan Caballero was murdered, whose family was the owner of the radio station where Humberto Coronel worked. Likewise, this Office was informed that journalist Gustavo Báez publicly stated that he is analyzing the possibility of leaving the country with his family, after the murder of his co-worker and the climate of threats and insecurity for the practice of his profession.  The Special Rapporteur’s Office considers it crucial that the authorities urgently take the necessary measures to protect the life and personal integrity of Gustavo Báez. 

The Rapporteur’s Office reiterates that the murder of journalists and communicators constitutes, in addition to a violation of the right to life, the most serious attack on freedom of expression and a form of direct censorship. This Office urges the State to investigate the facts promptly, with due independence and impartiality, and considering the practice of journalism as the motive for the crime. In this regard, this Office has previously indicated that "the existence of an adequate institutional framework is crucial for the State to be able to investigate, judge and criminally punish crimes against journalists" and that, in this sense, the State has the obligation to "assign the responsibility to investigate and judge these crimes to the authorities that are in the best conditions to resolve them and that have the autonomy and independence to act". On the other hand, the IACHR and the Inter-American Court have insisted that the obligation to investigate requires States to exhaust the logical lines of investigation linked to freedom of expression, since the contrary diminishes the possibilities of achieving effective justice for the crime.

In light of the foregoing considerations, The Special Rapporteur’s Office calls on the State to increase its efforts to prevent violence against the press. As previously noted, this obligation is particularly important in places where there is a risk of such acts occurring and in concrete situations in which the authorities know or should have known that there is a real and immediate risk of such crimes being committed.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to encourage the hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in the consolidation and development of the democratic system.