Public Order, Violence against Speakers / Impunity
Ríos v. Venezuela
Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of
Closed Expands Expression
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A Paraguayan Court sentenced Vilmar Acosta, former mayor of the city of Ypehú in the Department of Canindeyú, to 39 years in prison for ordering the assassination of journalist Pablo Medina. Medina investigated crimes in Ypejhú and had published articles on the alleged participation of “Clan Acosta” in homicides and drug trafficking in the area, allegations that had also been investigated by the Office of the Public Prosecutor. Relying on international standards, specifically the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, the Court reasoned that States had a fundamental and primary obligation to investigate and punish those responsible for the killing of journalists and that failure to do so constituted a violation of the right to freedom of expression as well as the right to life.
The ruling marks a milestone in Paraguayan jurisprudence on the protection of the right to freedom of expression and the free exercise of journalism.
Journalist Pablo Medina Velázquez was a news correspondent for the local newspaper ABC Color Paraguay. Medina was working on a story about the occurrence of plague in several farms in Colonia Crescencio.
On October 16, 2014, he traveled to the farms with his assistant Antonia Maribel Almada Chamorro and her sister Juana Ruth Almada Chamorro. While they were driving, two individuals killed Medina and Antonia Maribel with firearms. The two men were identified as Wilson and Flavio Acosta, brother and nephew of Vilmar Acosta.
Medina focused much of his work on crimes committed in the city of Ypejhú where Vilmar Acosta was the Mayor and he had also published various journalistic pieces linking Vilmar Acosta to cases of drug trafficking and homicides. Medina had begun investigating the Acosta Clan and their links to drugs and assassinations in 2010 and had received multiple death threats from Vilmar Acosta.
Judge Ramón T. Zelaya delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Court analyzed in detail the motive for the crime and its link with Medina’s journalistic activities referring to the articles of his that had been published in the years prior to his murder. It established from witness testimony that it was public knowledge that Vilmar Acosta was upset by the publications made by the journalist. The Court also found that Vilmar Acosta had expressed his desire to silence Medina long before the crime took place, specifically when he failed to win a defamation lawsuit against Medina. The Court also stated that Medina had received constant death threats directly related to the publication of articles about “Clan Acosta” and had been assigned a police officer for his protection.
Judge Janine Ríos submitted an extended opinion, which is considered part of the Court’s decision, highlighting the importance of protecting the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. It stated that the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACmHR) had emphasized that the killing of journalists constitutes the gravest violation of the right to freedom of expression. It unduly inhibits their right to life, suppresses their right to express ideas freely, and limits the right of society to receive information.
The Court stated that, according to inter-American standards, the obligation to investigate and prevent impunity for the killing of journalists is a fundamental and primary obligation of the States. Judge Ríos noted that, according to the IACmHR, the lack of thorough investigation leading to the punishment of those responsible constituted a violation of the right to freedom of expression. She said that this obligation was important to guarantee not only the right to life but, also, and primarily, the free and full exercise of the right to freedom of expression [pg. 325]. She added that compliance with the duty to investigate is one of the most important ways to prevent attacks against the lives of journalists.
Apart from the State’s obligations of prevention, protection, investigation and prosecution, Judge Rios referred to the chilling effect of crimes against journalists on other media professionals and society in general. Indeed, the Judge recalled that the IACmHR has acknowledged that violence against journalists, with the sole objective of silencing them, is a violation of society’s right to access information freely [pg. 324]. The Court also stressed that impunity has a chilling effect on the right to freedom of expression that could lead to censorship.
According to the Court, the role of the Judicial Power with respect to violence committed against journalists and those who exercise the right to freedom of expression is, essentially, to apply the relevant international standards. That is, to investigate the crime, render a judgment in order to obtain justice and penalize or establish the appropriate sentence.
The Court sentenced Vilmar Acosta to 39 years in prison for ordering the assassination of journalist Pablo Medina.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The decision expands expression because it recognizes a state’s duty to protect the exercise of the right to freedom of expression by a journalist and that failure to do so will have a chilling effect on that right. The decision also adopts inter-american standards regarding the prevention, protection and the fight against impunity in crimes against journalists and highlights the specific role of the judiciary in investigating, prosecuting and punishing all those responsible.
The ruling marks a milestone in the Paraguayan jurisprudence on the protection of the right to freedom of expression and the free exercise of journalism. Indeed, it is the first case in which a sentence has been imposed for a crime against a journalist.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
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