A Brazilian journalist was shot dead late Sunday by two unknown assailants on a motorcycle in the town of Ponta Porã, near the Paraguayan border.

Paulo Roberto Carlos Rodrigues, who went by the name Paulo Rocaro, was driving home through the center of Ponta Porã at approximately 23:30 when the attack occurred, according to Mercosulnews.com, one of the news outlets Rodrigues edited.

The gunmen reportedly fired 12 times, with at least five bullets hitting the journalist.   Rocaro was transported to the nearest hospital but died early Monday morning of his wounds, the website said.

A Ponta Porã police investigator told Brazilian media that the journalist’s murder showed clear signs of being a targeted attack.  “We are not discarding any hypothesis,” the investigator was quoted as saying, “but the characteristics are of a hired killing.”

According to regional media, Rocaro was the editor-in-chief of Jornal da Praça, the oldest newspaper in the restless border region between Paraguay and Brazil’s Mato Grosso do Sul state.  He founded Mercosulnews.com five years ago and further worked as a correspondent for two statewide newspapers, Correio do Estado and O Progresso de Dourados.

Rocaro was known for his outspoken opposition to corruption and his criticism of Ponta Porã’s mayor, Flavio Kalatt.   Paraguayan news outlet ABC reported that he had been helping to coordinate the campaign of an opposition candidate for mayor in elections scheduled to be held in October.  Rocaro had apparently been attending a meeting with the candidate the evening he was murdered.

AP reported that Kayatt had threatened to sue Rocaro in 2009 over articles alleging municipal corruption.  Kayatt has denied involvement in the murder and was quoted by AP, via Campo Grande News, as saying of Rocaro on Monday, “He was extremely competent and idealistic … Of course, he had ideologies that didn’t meet ours, but we had a good relationship.”

IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said: “We are deeply saddened at the death of Paulo Rocaro and we extend our condolences to his family and colleagues.  Rocaro’s murder adds to the rapidly worsening situation of press freedom in Brazil, particularly in the country’s rural areas.  The Brazilian federal and state governments must step up efforts to ensure that journalists — who are often citizens’ only defense against corruption and abuse of power at a local level — are protected.”

Last week, a Brazilian political journalist, Mario Randolfo Marques Lopes, and his girlfriend were kidnapped and murdered in southwest Rio de Janeiro state.

According to IPI’s Death Watch, five journalists were killed in Brazil in 2011; four of those occurred in remote or regional areas, and the journalists in question were well known for their criticism of local officials.   (IPI today released a special report on the plight of regional and local journalists across Latin America.)

IPI is also concerned about the safety of Cándido Figueredo, a correspondent for ABC in Pedro Juan Caballero, Paraguay, on the border with Ponta Porã.  Brazilian officials warned Figueredo in January that he was the target of a murder plot reportedly hatched by “Baron” Escurra, a drug trafficker in the region, according to regional media.

Most recently, Figueredo covered the killing of Paulo Rocaro for ABC.  IPI urgently calls upon authorities in both Paraguay and Brazil to take concrete action to ensure Figueredo’s safety.

Military activity has increased dramatically near the Brazil-Paraguay border in recent years as both countries attempt to secure a largely lawless region that has become a major transit point for narcotic and weapons smuggling.   Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, is suspected of using the border area as a headquarters for its alleged drug operations in the Western Hemisphere.

Correio do Estado reported that in 2002 Paulo Rocaro had authored a book, “A Tempestade” (“The Storm”),that denounced hired killings and extremist groups operating near the border.  “Ten years later,” the paper wrote, “he ended up being a victim of the criminal activity he portrayed in his book.”