Protests in Paraguay result in injured journalists while some leaders accuse media of inciting violence

In addition to the at least 12 journalists who were injured during the coverage of the protests in Asunción, Paraguay last weekend, media outlets have also faced attacks by some pro-government leaders who accuse them of inciting violence in the country.

The most recent accusation was made by the ruling Colorado Party that in a statement called three presenters from channel Telefuturo “merchants of lies disguised as journalists,” according to Última Hora. In the statement, it also accused them of “cheating” and “inciting” with “disinformation” citizens who “oppose what the sovereign people decide,” it added.

According to Última Hora, one of the presenters subsequently accused the president of the country, Horacio Cartes, as well as other leaders of being responsible for what happens in the country to promote the approval of an amendment that would allow the re-election of Cartes in 2018.

It was precisely the approval of this amendment by a group of 25 senators on March 31 that caused the protests. According to The New York Times, the senators who approved it met "outside the plenary, in a quasi-secret parallel session."

After learning of the approval, opposition senators took to the streets in protest, while hundreds of demonstrators outside the legislative palace knocked down security fences, allowing some of them to enter Congress. Meanwhile, other protesters clashed with police in the streets, The New York Times added.

Subsequently, the Congress building began to burn in flames, CNN en Español reported.

That same day, media outlets received the first accusation of provoking violence, this time on the part of President Cartes himself who issued a statement.

“The fire started at the headquarters of the National Congress demonstrates, once again, that a group of Paraguayans embedded in politics and mass media, will spare no effort to achieve the goal of destroying democracy and political and economic stability of the country,” the president said in a release dated March 31.

The protests that started on the night of March 31 until the morning of April 1 in Asunción left one dead, dozens injured and 217 detained (until midnight on Friday).

At least 12 press workers were among the wounded, according to figures from the Forum of Paraguayan Journalists (Fopep) published by ABC Color.

Regarding the March 31 statement from the President, Fopep demanded that authorities protect the work of the press, and blamed them for what happened to them.

“We  urge the authorities to safeguard the integrity of the communications colleagues in a context in which President Horacio Cartes himself blames the media for generating this climate of tension. However, we consider him alone responsible for having caused this situation because of his insistence on violating the National Constitution,” Fopep said in a statement, according to ABC Color.

According to Fopep, most of the journalists were injured by rubber bullets fired by the police, but other types of attacks, such as the destruction of equipment, also occurred. Diario Popular and Telefuturo reported damages to their vehicles and equipment. Newspaper ABC Color reported that its headquarters were damaged.

The Association of Paraguayan Journalists (SPP for its initials in Spanish), without giving specific figures, said that “several” communicators reported having been beaten with fists, truncheons and rubber bullets, as well as having their equipment destroyed. According to the SPP, these attacks were due to “indiscriminate police intervention.”

The SPP repudiated these attaques and made a “call to authorities of the Republic in order to abandon their personal political ambitions and [put] the supreme interests of society as a whole, preventing this crisis from leading to an unsustainable wave of violence.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the acts of violence and urged the State to fulfill its obligations to guarantee human rights, including freedom of expression.

In order for the amendment to be approved, it must also be passed by the Chamber of Deputies. However, the president of this Chamber has said that for now they will not discuss the topic “until a discussion is established between those supporting the re-election and the opposition,” according to ABC Color.

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.