Freedom of Expression

Press Release R153/19

The Office of the Special Rapporteur condemns the murder of journalist Norma Sarabia in Mexico and notes with concern the ongoing attacks against journalists 

June 17, 2019

Washington, D.C. - The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the murder of Mexican journalist Norma Sarabia in the State of Tabasco and notes with concern the persistent murders of journalists, communicators, and people related to the media. This Office has registered seven murders in Mexico in 2019, most of which might be connected with the practice of journalism. This is a serious indicator of the persistence of violence in different regions of the country.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur urges the Mexican State to exhaustively investigate these crimes in a complete, effective, and impartial manner, to establish the motivations behind those crimes, and to determine whether there are related with the journalistic activity. Likewise, this Office reminds the State of urgently monitoring the implementation of decisive measures in order to strengthen the protection mechanism for journalists.

According to public information, Tabasco Hoy correspondent Norma Sarabia was murdered on Tuesday night, June 11, by her residence’s door in Club Liberal in Huimanguillo, Tabasco. The reporter was also an elementary education teacher in Villa Chontalpa, and according to local media, throughout her more than 15 years as a journalist, she became known for carrying out police coverage and reporting on corruption cases.

Tabasco Hoy editor, Héctor Tapia, indicated that Ms. Sarabia felt unsafe and thus even stopped signing some articles related to organized crime and other sensitive issues in Chontalpa, a region where several illegal activities related to drug and fuel trafficking are carried out. This is the second murder of a communicator in 2019 in Tabasco. On February 9, radio presenter Jesús Eugenio Ramos was murdered.

Through an official letter, the Office of the Attorney General of Tabasco indicated that it was already working to solve the crime, that it had opened an investigation file on the issue at Huimanguillo’s Center for Justice Enforcement, that it had requested provisional protection measures for relatives, and that it had initiated the relevant procedures before the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic in order to comply with the applicable protocol regarding journalists’ protection.

Likewise, Tabasco Governor Adán Augusto López Hernández regretted the murder by indicating that he has already asked relevant authorities to "completely clarify the facts and to identify the people responsible for the murder."

According to public information, in 2014, Ms. Sarabia reported allegedly acts of corruption involving the police department of her region, which led her to report threats against her to the Prosecutor’s Office of Crimes against Journalists. The complaint was registered in prior investigation PGR/TAB/CAR-II/121/201.

In addition to Ms. Sarabia’s case, this Office reported six other killings of journalists, communicators, and/or people related to the media in Mexico in 2019, which indicates that extreme violence and censorship have taken place in the country for the last 20 years.

"The alarming cases of journalists murdered in Mexico continue, as had been the case in previous years. This is an urgent call for the State to adopt decisive measures to strengthen the mechanism to protect journalists and strengthen the Special Prosecutor's Office for Attention to Crimes Committed against Freedom of Expression [Fiscalía Especial para la Atención de Delitos cometidos contra la Libertad de Expresión] (FEADLE)," indicated the Special Rapporteur of the IACHR, Edison Lanza.

A positive indicator in that sense is that this Office has received an answer from the Mexican State to an Article 41 letter requesting information on the status of the investigation of the murders of communicators that happened in the last couple of years in the country. This letter contains information on the progress of the investigation of the murders of Javier Valdés, Rubén Espinosa, and Miroslava Breach.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur recommends the Mexican State should offer further resources to FEADLE, in the context of the gravity of the violent situation communicators are going through, and recalls that all cases shall be investigated.

On multiple occasions, both the Commission and the IAHR Court have referred to the frightening effect of the crimes committed against journalists and other media professionals, as well as their impact on people aiming to report on abuse of power and illegal acts of any nature.

Principle 9 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the IACHR states that "the murder, kidnapping, intimidation, threat to social communicators, as well as the material destruction of the media, violates people’s fundamental rights and severely restricts the freedom of expression. It is the duty of the States to prevent and investigate these acts, to punish their perpetrators and to assure the victims of adequate reparation."

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) with the aim of encouraging the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given its fundamental role in consolidating and developing the democratic system.