Freedom of Expression

Press Release R189/19

Office of the Special Rapporteur condemns increased violence against journalists and the media in Mexico and urges the State to strengthen strategies for prevention, protection, and fight against impunity at federal and state levels

August 5, 2019

Washington DC- The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression condemns the increase in violence against journalists and the media in Mexico and recalls that the security crisis against journalists, ongoing for years, requires the adoption of a specific modality of identification, attention, and response. In the last week, the murders of journalists Rogelio Barragán, director of the "Guerrero al instante" media outlet in Morelos, of Edgar Alberto Nava, director of the news portal " La verdad de Zihuatanejo" (Guerrero), and of Jorge Celestino Ruiz, from the Graphic newspaper of Xalapa (Veracruz) were reported. Likewise, the facilities of the newspaper "El Monitor del Parral", in Chihuahua, were the target of a Molotov bomb attack.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur urges the federal government to take decisive steps to strengthen the Federal Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists and to urgently increase coordination with the states for this purpose, as well as provide resources and give priority to the Special Prosecutor's Office for the Attention of Crimes Against Freedom of Expression [Fiscalía Especializada para la Atención de Delitos Contra la Libertad de Expresión] (FEADLE), in accordance with the recommendations made in the Special Report on the Situation of Freedom of Expression in Mexico 2018, as a result of the joint visit of the Office of the Special Rapporteur of the IACHR and the UN Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and Opinion.

In the first half of 2019, the Office of the Special Rapporteur has identified 10 murders of journalists that could be linked to their work, so far. These losses are aimed at silencing those who are most indispensable to publicize the situation of conflict, insecurity, corruption, and criminality in some States of Mexico. It also notes with concern the increase in attacks against media companies in the country, which shows that the crisis of violence against journalists in Mexico persists.

This office urges the Mexican State to investigate fully, effectively, and impartially these crimes, clarify their motives and determine the relationship they might have to journalistic activity. For this, the Special Prosecutor's Office must have resources, adopt clear rules to open investigations of cases in States where these crimes are recurrent, and achieve greater coordination with local authorities.

The most recent cases

The Prosecutor’s Office of the State of Morelos reported on Tuesday, July 30, the murder of journalist Rogelio Barragán, who was working in the neighboring State of Guerrero, and announced the opening of an investigation. In addition, it indicated that the body was found with tied hands and signs of torture in the trunk of an abandoned vehicle in the Benito Juárez neighborhood of the municipality of Zacatepec.

According to information of public knowledge, Barragán had been working in the area of judicial journalism for more than a decade from Chilpancingo, on the portal he directed, "Guerrero al Instante" where he would have covered various events. Although to date there is no clear information on whether the journalist would have been threatened before, some sources indicate that he would have been escaping from his city, which is why the body was found outside the State where the journalist worked.

According to reports from the Prosecutor's Office of the State of Guerrero, the second journalist murdered in less than a week in Mexico was Edgar Alberto Nava, who was executed on Friday, August 2 while having breakfast with a group of children on the beach. This breakfast was part of a program organized by the Zihuatanejo City Council, of which the journalist was also the director of regulations and events in the Costa Grande region.

Also on Friday, August 2, Jorge Celestino Ruiz, a correspondent for the Graphic newspaper of Xalapa, was murdered. According to the authorities, he was attacked with firearms in the municipality of Actopan in the State of Veracruz. According to public information, in October 2018 Ruiz's house would have been attacked and the journalist filed a complaint for the event to be investigated.

Likewise, on Tuesday, July 30, a group of hooded men attacked the headquarters of the newspaper "El Monitor de Parral" in Chihuahua with Molotov bombs. The newspaper had announced that it would stop printing and its reporters would no longer cover information from the political and judicial area, until there were better conditions to carry out journalistic work. "We will not publish absolutely no news of a police nature – important as it may be. We will also not be involved in any aspect that represents a political bias," they said through their Social Networks account.

The attack on the facilities of El Monitor de Parral, considered one of the oldest newspapers in the State of Chihuahua, shows the serious situation of the security crisis for the exercise freedom of expression in the country, as well as the increase in attacks against the Press compared to the same period of 2018.

"We are alarmed by the number of cases that seem to exacerbate violence against the press in Mexico. It is urgent to review and implement changes in prevention and protection policies, as well as in the entities that must investigate these crimes," said Edison Lanza, Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the IACHR.

The Special Report on the Situation of Freedom of Expression in Mexico 2018, recommended that the federal government implement a prevention policy given the seriousness of this crisis, in addition to the mentioned protection and justice measures. Among other measures, it was recommended to establish a person in charge of compiling disaggregated statistics on attacks against the press, adopting a public speech recognizing the work of journalists, and implementing contingency plans for states such as Guerrero, Veracruz and Chihuahua, where there is a particular risk for the exercise of journalism.

Both the Commission and the Inter-American Court have repeatedly referred to the chilling effect of crimes against journalists and other media professionals, as well citizens who intend to report abuses of power or illegal acts of any nature.

Principle 9 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the IACHR states: "[t]he murder, kidnapping, intimidation of and/or threats to social communicators, as well as the material destruction of communications media violate the fundamental rights of individuals and strongly restrict freedom of expression. It is the duty of the state to prevent and investigate such occurrences, to punish their perpetrators and to ensure that victims receive due compensation."

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.