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Radio journalist critical of drug-trafficking seriously wounded, his wife killed, in shooting attack

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF is very worried by a shooting attack that took place on 8 April 2008 in Curuguaty (300 km north-east of Asunción) in which political activist and radio commentator Alfredo Tomás Avalos was seriously injured by a gunshot to the head and his Brazilian wife, Silvana Rodrígues, was killed. The organisation fears the Paraguayan media is in danger due to the tension surrounding the 20 April elections to choose a successor to President Nicanor Duarte.

"Avalos often spoke out on the air against drug trafficking on the border between Paraguay and Brazil, which would have made him a target for the drug gangs," RSF said. "This hypothesis should be given priority by those investigating the shooting, which we find very alarming as the election campaign has been very tense."

RSF added: "The Paraguayan press, especially the local press, is very exposed to threats and reprisals as we have already observed. It falls to both the judicial authorities and the candidates to ensure that freedom of expression and the safety of journalists be guaranteed."

Avalos is a businessman, a member of the Curuguaty municipal council, a members of the left-wing Patria Querida party, and a local representative of the Tekojojá grass-roots movement. He has a regular public affairs programme on 105.1 San Isidro FM, a radio station owned by a ruling party politician, and often uses his airtime to criticise the drug traffickers operating in the nearby border area. He was the target of a kidnapping attempt in 2007 and is being sued by suspected drug cartel boss Aristeu Falkenbak.

Avalos was with his wife outside their home on the evening of 8 April when two men on a motorcycle pulled up and opened fire, killing his wife and leaving Avalos with a serious gunshot wound to the head. He was rushed to hospital where he underwent surgery. Doctors said his condition was stable but refused to comment on his chances of recovery.

Investigators said they were considering three possibilities: that the shooting was linked to Avalos's journalistic activities, that it was linked to his business or financial activities, or that it was politically motivated. The national daily "ABC Color" said the authorities considered the third hypothesis the one least likely to be true.

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