Lack of safety continued to be the main concern of journalists and news media during this period. The repeated attacks on reporters, press employees and offices and the failure to deal with cases of violence have been enormous barriers to freedom of expression.
The number of attacks on journalists is alarming. Last year ended with 172 assaults linked to the exercise of press freedom. The National Human Rights Commission counted nine murders of journalists and 98 violations of guarantees for the work of the press. From 2000 to so far this year there have been 76 homicides, but in very few cases has there been a conviction.
The main offenses of which journalists are victims are mostly abuse of authority, aggravated robbery, threats, property damage, injuries and attempts at murder, most of the perpetrators being up to now public officials, and in the case of homicides and unlawful privation of liberty assumed drug traffickers or people belonging to organized crime.
On January 6 Raúl Quirono Garza, a reporter with the Nuevo León newspaper La Última Palabra, was shot to death. It has been ruled out that his murder was linked to his work as a journalist.
Despite the changes that have been made in the Office of Special Prosecutor for Dealing With Crimes Committed Against Journalists, which for two years was headed by Gustavo E. Room Chávez who in mid-February was replaced by Laura Angélica Borbolla Morena, in the period covered by this report there have been explosive attacks on 29 journalists and two news media outlets.
On November 29 the IAPA regarded as progress the passage by the Senate in plenary session of the repeal of Articles 1 and 31 of the Press Offenses Law, which made defamation and libel no longer criminal offenses but civil ones. On January 11 the Mexican Official Gazette published this action, it coming into force that day.
It is worthy of mention that in response to a demand by the press and the IAPA since 1997, in the context of violence against the press and the few or no advances by the investigative bodies in each agency, the Mexican Senate also unanimously passed on March 13 amendments to Article 73 of the Constitution to empower federal bodies, such as the Mexican Attorney General’s Office, to take over the investigations when there are attacks on journalists and news media, bringing them under federal jurisdiction.
Sixteen of the 32 state legislatures have yet to approve this amendment, which could take even longer to become finally valid and operative. What is also required is for the federal Chamber of Deputies in turn to establish regulations for enactment of the amendment.
In this period the following attacks were reported:
On November 6 the offices of the Córdova, Veracruz, newspaper El Buen Tono were attacked by armed assailants, who burst into the building and caused considerable damage and prevented the paper from being distributed. No employee there was injured. A total of 50 people gave testimony, but there has been no arrest.
On November 15 a group of armed men attacked the plant of the Coahuila newspaper El Siglo de Torreón. The assailants set fire to a car outside the building and shot at least 20 times at the offices there. No employee was injured and there was damage only to a metal shutter, a sidewalk and part of the building.
After initiating inquiries the State Attorney’s Office has shown no sign of progress in its investigations, the paper’s managing editor, Javier Garza Ramos, reported. He said the Mexican Attorney General’s Office had not come around nor indicated if it had begun any investigation.
On November 18 the group Artículo 19 reported threats having been made to journalist Edgar Monroy, investigative assistant of reporter Olga Wornat. The two have received a series of death threats over the past two months in messages on their mobile phones and by e-mail.
The two journalists say that behind the threats is a group that is attempting to learn the contents of a book that they are writing on the administration of President Felipe Calderón.
On December 5 the correspondent of the newspaper Noroeste in the municipality of Concordia in Sinaloa state, Luis Pereza Ibarra, was threatened in a message left on his mobile phone. The Public Prosecutor’s Office began inquiries, but so far with no results.
On December 14 José Luis Guzmán, a distributor with the El Debate newspaper chain in Guamúchil, Sinaloa, was detained a few minutes after a shoot-out erupted in the city’s La Gloria neighborhood. He was released the next day. Although he filed a formal complaint with the District Attorney’s Office, asking for the incident to be investigated, there has been no result whatsoever.
On January 22 a newspaper vendor with the El Debate chain, Édgar Camargo Sobampo, 20, was detained in Mocorito, Sinaloa, and released two days later, with signs of having been badly beaten on several parts of his body.
On January 30 news photographer Ararak Salomón of the newspaper Noroeste was beaten up and had his camera seized by members of the State Police Force during a police operation in the town of Guasave, Sinaloa, after he took photos as several police officers were being disarmed and detained by State Police agents.
On February 17, in a press release, the Guadalajara soccer team Chivas reported that it would prevent the entry of reporters from the sports paper Récord both to its premises and to games played on the Guadalajara Sports Club field. The press release said Récord had caused great harm to the reputation of the team and those belonging to it by having published lies. Other clubs, such as Cruz Azul, Monterrey, Santos Laguna and Querétero joined in the action.
For having received death threats Juan Manuel Vega, who writes the column titled “La Trompada” (The Punch), the Mexican Attorney General’s Office called for protection for him and his family. However, the Mexico State Attorney’s Office and the Citizen Security Department ignored the plea.
On March 2 the Mexican National Human Rights Commission took up the cases of Antonio Heras Sánchez, a correspondent of La Jornada who was beaten up in Mexicali by unidentified assailants, and the co-editor of the weekly Zeta, Adela Navarro Bello, who was threatened in Tijuana.
In the case of Navarro the threats were received at the weekly paper on February 22 and she made them public in her column “Sortilegios” (Fortune-Telling) on the 28th of that month, declaring having received a call in which she was told, “They’re already chasing them. They’re getting very close,” going add to add, “They want to give them a thrashing.” Navarro said the warning referred to the Zeta editors, explaining that they had been followed and their location discovered. The Office of Special Prosecutor for Dealing With Crimes Against Freedom of Expression and the Mexican Attorney General’s Office branch in Baja California initiated inquiries, but on asking the journalist and the weekly to confirm what had been complained of the Zeta employees along with their lawyers decided not to do so, with the idea of calling on the federal government to attack impunity and not protect them on an individual basis.
During March there were reports of attacks on press freedom in Nayarit. There, the mayor of Bahía de Banderas, Rafael Cervantes, prohibited the sale of newspapers in the tourist area of Riviera Vallarta, saying that the information published would harm the area’s image.
On March 5, in the city of Oaxaca, Oaxaca state, Notimex news agency photographer Hugo Alberto Velasco was attacked and his equipment damaged. His assailants belonged to a political group and he was assaulted on a local street.
On March 6 officers of the Municipal Police of Santa Cruz Xoxcotlán, Oaxaca state, attacked reporters from various local media. They fired teargas at and beat the reporters, among whom were Estefan Marcial of Noticias, José Cortés of Telemundo, Othón García of Rotativo, Jorge Arturo Pérez Alfonso, a photographer with La Jornada, Jesús Cruz Porras of the weekly Proceso, and Alejandro Villafañe of the newspaper El Imparcial. The reporters were covering the eviction of a group of farmers from a crossroads in the town. The local mayor, José Julio Antonio Aquino, asked the journalists to file a formal complaint in order to proceed against the persons responsible.
Also on March, in Baja California, the reporting team from the portal Diez4 de Tijuana, filed a complaint after receiving death threats due to their work as journalists.
On March 19 the building of the newspaper Expreso was attacked, causing considerable material damage to the exterior of the building and five vehicles parked nearby that contained the explosives used. Expreso employees used Twitter to report that they were unharmed in the incident. The newspaper cancelled its distribution the following day.
On March 24 reporters with Notiver Eduardo Guevara and Manuel Monrroy were detained by Naval Police as they made their way to cover police action in an incident. The reason they were detained was that they were not wearing helmets, and that is why they were held for more than three hours, a time in which they were taken to police headquarters, where they were threatened, stripped naked and photographed.
On March 24 unidentified persons shot at the home of Víctor Montenegro, publisher of the weekly El Contralor and stringer for the magazine Contralíneas and the online newspaper Lobo Times of the Durango Autonomous University.
On March 25 the building of Televisa Noreste television in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, was attacked by assailants who hurled an explosive device, apparently a hand grenade. There was only material damage.
On April 11 three journalists with the television channel Mayavisión in Campeche were detained for 12 hours by residents of the Nunkini neighborhood in that state, as a way of putting pressure for the National Forestry Commission (Conafor) to provide financial support for them. The townspeople made it a condition for the release of reporters Edgar Icthe Villafaña and Oliver Pacheco, along with cameraman Erik Hernández Uscanga, that Conafor hand over the money. They were finally freed by a riot squad.
In recent days there have also been reports of acts of aggression on journalists by security guards of presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto during campaigning in Oaxaca.
The Association Journalists of Ciudad Juárez in early April complained that due to the climate of lack of security insurance and credit companies were refusing to offer their services to journalists.
On April 18, freelance reporter Oscar Balderas Méendez was assaulted by persons who identified themselves as part of organized crime, when he was doing his work in Huixquilucan, State of Mexico. In the incident he was relieved of his camera, and he made a report to the office of the Prosecutor. The reporter is now recovering from the blows and wounds that he received.
This month also saw the death of journalist Gustavo Flores Trenado, of the Reforma Group, after several days in a coma, which had been caused by a blow to his head. The journalist was found unconscious on the Mexico-Querétaro highway and, according to a report in Reforma on April 12th, there are two different versions of the circumstances under which the communicator was found.