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Politicians accused of masterminding journalist's murder still at large

(RSF/IFEX) - 14 October 2011 - Eight months after radio journalist Merardo Romero's murder in Ytakyry, in the eastern department of Alto Paraná, the alleged perpetrators are in prison but the suspected masterminds behind the crime continue to enjoy complete impunity. The important political posts they hold seem to account for the murder's limited media impact and the lack of progress in the investigation.

Romero, the programme director for the La Voz de Ytakyry community radio station, was gunned down in his home in front of his children on 3 March 2011. A colleague at the same station, Rumilio Piris, abandoned his post five days later after being the target of death threats.

"The investigation into Romero's murder must not be restricted to those who executed it," Reporters Without Borders said. "It would be an absolute scandal if it was demonstrated that the politicians allegedly involved in this case have been receiving protection from within the police and judicial system."

The press freedom organization added, "The struggle against impunity is meaningless if it punishes the underlings or intermediaries in order to better protect the powerful. They, too, must be arrested and called to account by the investigators."

Paraguayan journalists who tackle subjects such as corruption and drug trafficking are still exposed to great risks, as Reporters Without Borders pointed out in a report published in July.

The Public Prosecutor's Office issued a warrant for the arrest of José Valenzuela, a senior member of the Colorado Party, on 4 April for the "deliberate murder" of Romero, but the police said he could not be located. With the help of phone records, investigators established that Valenzuela had threatened Romero and promised to pay the alleged perpetrators of his assassination eight million guaranis (approx. US$2,000).

The three alleged perpetrators - Silvio Samudio Benítez, Ofelio José Pérez Paredes and Arnildo Enciso Borja - are being held in the Ciudad del Este prison pending trial.

Another Colorado Party leader, former Ytakyry mayor Miguel Angel Soria, continues to deny any involvement in the murder although Romero's family has formally accused him of being the instigator. Romero had accused Soria of corruption on the air and, according to those close to him, had received death threats from Soria via telephone calls.

Another possible motive was Romero's political activities. He was a member of "Esperanza Colorada," a Colorado Party branch opposed to "Honor Colorado", the branch to which Soria and Valenzuela belonged. According to the Paraguayan media, Soria and Valenzuela are supported by Alto Paraná governor Darío Aguinagalde Gallinar, who recently said he would like to "machine-gun" the region's journalists.

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