Former mayor sentenced to 39 years for murders of Paraguayan journalist Pablo Medina and his assistant

This story has been updated to include the sentence handed down on Dec. 19.

A Paraguayan court sentenced a former mayor to 39 years in prison for the 2014 death of ABC Color regional correspondent Pablo Medina and his assistant Antonia Almada.

On Dec. 14, Vilmar Acosta Marques, the former mayor of Ypejhú, was found guilty of being the instigator of the murders, according to EFE. On Dec. 19, he was sentenced to 29 years in jail and 10 years of security measures, the news agency reported.

The public prosecutor had requested 40 years, consisting of 30 years in prison and 10 years of security measures.

Prosecutors accused Acosta, also known as “Neneco,” of ordering two suspects to carry out the murder, EFE reported. These suspects are Wilson Acosta, Neneco’s brother, and Flavio Acosta, his cousin. Wilson Acosta is on the run and Flavio Acosta is in detention in Brazil.

The president of the court said evidence showed Vilmar Acosta had lodged multiple threats at Medina who continued to denounce his alleged involvement in illegal acts, ABC Color reported.

What was he looking for? Silence, to silence the press, because Pablo Medina signified that,” a prosecutor in the case said, according to ABC Color. “Pablo Medina was working, he was a person whose job was to practice journalism, and the silence was what he – Vilmar-– sought so that public opinion wouldn’t know of the crimes he committed, of the different crimes that were investigated.”

ABC Color also reported that Vilmar Acosta's attorney said the prosecution based its claims on journalistic publications.

On Oct. 16, 2014, two men wearing camouflage intercepted Medina’s car outside of Curuguaty while he was returning from a reporting trip to the Ko’ê Porã indigenous community. They shot Medina several times. Almada was also hit and eventually died.

Medina was threatened because of his coverage of drug trafficking in the region. His 27-year-old brother Salvador, also a journalist, was killed in January 2001 in the same area. Close to the Brazilian border, this region of Paraguay is especially dangerous for critical journalists due to the prominance of drug trafficking.

EFE reported that according to prosecutors, Medina acknowledged he was being watched by hitmen under Vilmar Acosta.

Following the murders of Pablo Medina and Almada, Acosta fled to Brazil. He was apprehended in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul in March 2015, but his extradition was delayed because he claimed to be a Brazilian citizen. In November of that year, Brazil approved his extradition.

This is not the first conviction in the case.

In March 2016, Arnaldo Cabrera, a former driver for Acosta, was sentenced to five years in prison for failing to communicate an offense. However, he was acquitted of Medina and Almada’s murders.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) called for the courts to hand down the maximum sentence for Vilmar Acosta.

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.