Chilean journalist who spent eight years in prison testifies as torture victim of Paraguayan dictatorship

Chilean journalist and photographer Rafael Mella Latorre recently testified before the Paraguayan justice system as a victim in the criminal trial for torture carried out by the government during the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner (1980-1989), EFE reported.

Prosecutor Liliana Zayas requested the statement from Mella Latorre, who spent eight years imprisoned by the dictatorship. Before giving his statement, he was reviewed by a forensic doctor from the courts. A psychologist at the Center for Care of Victims of the Dictatorship was present during the process, according to a press release from the public prosecutor’s office.

On Oct. 30, 1980, Mella Latorre was arrested at his home with his wife by Paraguayan policemen dressed in civilian clothes. The Paraguayan newspaper La Tribuna, for which Mella Latorre was working at the time, had assigned him to cover and follow up on the attack on Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza in Asunción on Sept. 17, 1980.

The police arbitrarily arrested him and accused him of participating in the attack that killed Somoza. "They [the police] never wanted to know anything, the only thing they wanted and needed was to have a person to blame, to present as a member of this terrorist command that killed Anastasio Somoza. I was a scapegoat," Mella Latorre said in an interview conducted a few years ago by EcoCultura, a community television channel from Paraguay.

The Chilean photojournalist was imprisoned until 1989, when Stroessner was overthrown. Days after his release, he was expelled to Chile. According to the prosecution, he was tortured psychologically and physically during his confinement.

The murders or disappearances of 425 people and the arrest of 20,000 others were recorded during Stroessner's regime. They were victims of physical and psychological torture, according to the Paraguayan Truth and Justice Commission, ABC Color reported.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.