Mexico: Call for investigation as number of journalists murdered rises

The first five months of 2022 have seen a shocking increase in lethal violence against journalists in Mexico, resulting in the murder of 11 journalists. It is vital that the Mexican authorities carry out an urgent, independent investigation into the murders, and facilitate justice in their cases.

ARTICLE 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Women’s Communication and Information (Comunicación e Información de la Mujer, CIMAC), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and PEN International continue to monitor and document these murders, and to engage in dialogue with authorities, the victims' families and the journalism sector.

To date, the undersigned organisations have identified that at least eight of these murders could be related to the exercise of the profession of journalism. If this trend continues, 2022 stands to become one of the most lethal years on record for the press in Mexico.

ARTICLE 19, CPJ, CIMAC, RSF and PEN International pay tribute to the assassinated journalists and express their solidarity with their families and colleagues.

10 January

José Luis Gamboa Arenas

Inforegio Network

Veracruz

17 January

Margarito Martínez Esquivel

Independiente

Baja California

23 January

Lourdes Maldonado López

Sintoniza Sin Censura

Baja California

31 January

Roberto Toledo

Monitor Michoacán

Michoacán

10 February

Heber López Vázquez

Noticias Web

Oaxaca

24 February

Jorge Luis Camero Zazueta

El Informativo

Sonora

4 March

Juan Carlos Muñiz

Testigo Minero

Zacatecas

15 March

Armando Linares López

Monitor Michoacán

Michoacán

5 May

Luis Enrique Ramirez Ramos

El Debate

Sinaloa

9 May

Yesenia Mollinedo Falconi

El Veraz

Veracruz

9 May

Sheila Johana García Olivera

El Veraz

Veracruz

In the face of this wave of violence, the undersigned organisations express their concern about the claims executive branches at state and federal levels have made about the investigations and their progress.

Failure to apply the Standardised Protocol

ARTICLE 19, CPJ, CIMAC, RSF and PEN International are concerned about the Mexican authorities’ failure to enforce the Standardised Protocol for the Investigation of Crimes Committed against Freedom of Expression and their refusal to accept the victims' role as journalists.

The Mexican president does not recognise Jorge Luis Camero and Roberto Toledo as journalists since they carried out other work in addition to journalism. We remind the authorities of the definition of journalism as framed by international standards of freedom of expression, as well as by the Mexican Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN), and of the importance of recognising as journalists not only those who practice the profession of journalism and work in media, but also those who carry out the work and social function of informing the public. We also remind the authorities that the Standardised Protocol establishes that it is the duty of the prosecutors' office to consider, within all crimes against the press, journalism as one of the main lines of investigation.

Leaks and wrongful arrests

ARTICLE 19, CPJ, CIMAC, RSF and PEN International have documented the leaking of evidence in the cases of Yesenia Mollinedo and Johana García, as well as in the case of Roberto Toledo, which may have serious consequences on the investigations and due process. In addition, the non-consensual publication of photographs of the victims violates their families’ privacy and security whilst also potentially compromising the investigations. This includes attempts by the authorities to link journalists, through smear campaigns, to alleged illicit or other work-related activities, and to disassociate the murders from the journalistic work of the victims.

The undersigned organisations are also alarmed by the arrest of an individual not linked to the killings of Yesenia Mollinedo and Johana García. The Veracruz State Attorney General's Office reported the arrest on 17 May; however, hours later it announced on Twitter that the person had been released after being wrongfully detained: "upon validation of his identity by this office and determining that it was a homonym, he was released immediately to avoid violating his rights". This spurious action, in addition to perpetuating impunity, seems to protect the real aggressors, keeping the victims, their families and society as a whole without access to justice and truth.

Stigmatisation and unverified information

At both federal and state levels, the authorities have claimed that the crimes committed against journalists are related to organised crime and not to freedom of expression issues, including during the daily press conferences held by the Federal Executive, where alleged progress in investigations are presented. ARTICLE 19, CPJ, CIMAC, RSF and PEN express their concern regarding the position of the Mexican State, as these allegations work to disassociate investigations from the victims’ journalism. Furthermore, the statements seek to exempt the Mexican State from its responsibilities in preventing violence and protecting the press, as well as in investigating and identifying all those responsible.

The fact that the suspected perpetrators are members of organised criminal gangs should not automatically disassociate the crimes from freedom of expression issues or the possible involvement of state or non-state agents in the murders. As academic and judicial research has shown, in many regions of the country, different state structures and agents are linked to organised crime. To assert that these killings have been committed via organised crime networks without some degree of state involvement undermines the importance of due diligence throughout the investigations.In order to identify the perpetrators and criminal networks, diligent, objective, impartial and thorough investigations by the authorities are needed.

Other concerning signs include the discrepancies between the declarations of the authorities at the federal and state levels. Among others, on 12 May 2022, the Under Secretary of Public Security at the federal level, Ricardo Mejía Berdeja, reported that the perpetrators of the murder of journalist Luis Enrique Ramírez had been identified. Hours later, Sinaloa State Attorney General Sara Bruna Quiñonez Estrada denied this information, announcing that possible results should not be advanced until there was certainty.

Furthermore, public reporting of the number of people detained in Mexico does not in itself guarantee justice or reparation for the victims until all those responsible have been identified, tried, and punished with due process. The official data available is linked to nine journalists murdered this year. However, the undersigned organisations consider there are at least 27 further cases of murdered journalists to be investigated – murders that have been committed during the current six-year term of Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s presidency. One hundred and forty-four investigations of murders of journalists in the last 20 years are still pending.

In light of the above, ARTICLE 19, CPJ, CIMAC, RSF and PEN demand:

  • The Mexican State must assume responsibility and provide justice for all murdered journalists. It must also accept its role in the prevention, protection and appropriate action in emergencies, including care for victims. This highlights the urgent need for a comprehensive public protection policy.
  • The Mexican State must ensure greater communication and coordination between federal, state, and municipal authorities, which is indispensable to give certainty to investigations.
  • The State Attorney General's Offices (FGE) must duly implement the Standard Protocol for the Investigation of Crimes Committed against Freedom of Expression.
  • The Federal Executive must ensure investigations free from tampering or other types of interventions, and acknowledge possible links between the murders and the victims’ journalistic work.
  • The Veracruz State Attorney General's Office must investigate the case of Yesenia Mollinedo and Sheila Yohana García from a gender perspective, considered as a cross-cutting element in the actions of the staff of the Attorney General's Office as well as in the investigations.
  • The Federal Executive must refrain from stigmatising journalism as a profession, avoid misinformation in its daily press conferences and strongly condemn all types of violence against the press.

Signed

ARTICLE 19

Committee to Protect Journalists

Comunicación e Información de la Mujer

PEN International Reporters Without Borders