London, 18 May 2020.- The assassination of Jorge Miguel Armenta Ávalos, director of El Tiempo newspaper; threats against the newspaper Reforma; the recent investigations of state news agency Notimex; and stigmatising comments about media and journalists by the authorities demonstrate the insecurity in which journalists live in Mexico, said PEN International and PEN Centres in Guadalajara and San Miguel de Allende.
On 16 May 2020, Jorge Miguel Armenta Ávalos was assassinated in the city of Cajeme, Sonora, allegedly by an organised crime group. Armenta was the director of El Tiempo and Medios Obson newspapers. According to first reports, both the director and his staff had received death threats.
On May 13 2020, at 8:42 a.m. Reforma newspaper received threats by telephone because of its alleged criticism of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. According to ARTICLE 19, office for Mexico and Central America, an unknown person, who said he belonged to the Cartel de Sinaloa, threatened in a phone call to blow up the Reforma’s office.
In this phone call from Mexicali, Baja California, in the north of Mexico, the man said: “Your organisation published a video which denigrated and made fun of the President of the Republic... That is stepping over the line...Tell them that they should not be defaming the president, they can't go betraying the fatherland, because if they don’t stop, we will blow up the office of your damn newspaper, as we call it. The whole Sinaloa Cartel supports Andrés Manuel López Obrador... just so you take care.” The threat was called in after the paper showed a video in which a speech about the governmental attitude toward the COVID-19 crisis.
On 14 May 2020, during his morning news conference, the Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador condemned the attacks. Nonetheless, PEN International and the PEN Centres in Guadalajara and San Miguel are calling for the president to avoid talking in such a way as to stigmatise the media and journalists, and to avoid treating them in a discriminatory way, above all in a moment so important for the diffusion of information as is the health crisis caused by COVID-19.
Writers, editors, journalists and artistic creators from PEN Centres call on President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to stop messages which stigmatise journalists. PEN and other organisations have shown that these messages are constant and increasing and taken up by other executive authorities in the states and counties, inhibiting freedom of expression and the right to information.
López Obrador has said that in Mexico “there is no professional, independent - I don’t say objective because this is difficult since objectivity is relative - but ethical journalism. We are very far from that. It is part of the decadence which has been produced.” Repeatedly, in May 2020, during his news conference, he accused international newspapers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Financial Times and El País of lying or unethical reporting on Mexico in the COVID 19 crisis.
As a political leader and representative of one of the most dangerous nations in which to practice journalism, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador must respect freedom of information, as well as editorial postures, information and investigations by reporters, columnists, writers, intellectuals and figures in Mexican culture and thought which is critical of his administration.
On Friday April 24, 2020, PEN International called on governments to protect freedom of expression during the COVID-19 crisis. “To have a free press, furthermore, is critical in order to respond effectively to the health crisis, given their indispensable role in access to information and promotion of transparency,” the message reminded the Mexican government.
PEN recognises that the Mechanism for Protection of Defenders of Human Rights and Journalists of the Secretariat of Government condemned the threats against Reforma newspaper, but these actions must be translated into the freedom to practice journalism safely in Mexico.
Freedom of expression is essential during the health emergency. Because of that PEN International calls on the Mexican authorities to investigate the murder of Jorge Miguel Armenta Avalos and its connection with his journalism, the attacks against Mexican media and journalists, as well as to offer journalists and writers of Reforma newspaper necessary protections. We also call on President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to abstain from generating any stigma or discrimination against the press, to respect criticism and the right to disagree.
PEN International and its Centres urge the Mexican state to strengthen protections for freedom of expression in the country, protect its journalists and to break the cycle of impunity that surrounds the perpetrators of such violence.
Translation: Lucina Kathmann