Freedom of Expression

Press release R67/20

The Office of the Special Rapporteur condemns murder of journalist María Elena Ferral in Veracruz and expresses concern over persistence of violence against communicators in Mexico


April 3, 2020


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 journalist María Elena Ferral Fernández, in Papantla (Veracruz) and expresses its grave concern over the persistence of murders against journalists, communicators, and individuals linked to the press in Mexico. This Office urges the Mexican State to fully, effectively, and impartially investigate this crime, clarify its motive, and determine the relationship it could have to journalistic activity. At the same time, the Office of the Special Rapporteur reiterates to Mexico that it must review and implement decisive measures to strengthen the Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists in line with the recommendations made in the Special Report on the Situation of the Freedom of Expression in Mexico in 2018.


According to the information available, during the afternoon of March 30, María Ferral Fernández, who was the correspondent of the Diario de Xalapa and director of the Quinto Poder media, was attacked by an individual on a motorcycle at the time the journalist was walking to her vehicle in the center of the municipality of Papantla. The journalist died hours after being surgically intervened in a hospital in the region due to injuries caused by gunshot wounds.


Different Organizations have denounced that Ferral had reported -on several occasions- death threats against her, which is why she filed a complaint in 2015, on that occasion the journalist would have mentioned that the threats would come from a politician from her area who was always escorted by armed men. Likewise, in 2016 the journalist reported direct death threats during a meeting with the same political leader in a restaurant. The Mexican State reported that in 2018, the protection mechanism contacted Ferral Fernández to invite her to join the program, but the journalist would not have presented the petition that the mechanism requires to assign her the protection measures.


Both the Prosecutor's Office and the governor of Veracruz, Cuitláhuac García, reported that an investigation was opened into her murder to find those responsible for the incident as soon as possible: likewise, they indicated that the state government will provide all the attention needed to the family of Ferral Fernández. Similarly, the State of Veracruz reported that it is currently providing protection measures for the journalist's son and daughter.


This Office has recorded the murder of two journalists in Mexico so far in the year 2020 that could be linked to the informative work of the victims. The Office of the Special Rapporteur has pointed out on several occasions that the murders of journalists in Mexico are aimed at silencing them because in many cases they investigate insecurity and accountability in the country. The situation is also worrisome due to the increase in violence against women journalists, in the context of harassment based on gender stereotypes against women journalists in the country.


"Alarming cases of journalists murdered continue to occur in Mexico, and we do not see a change in the trend of previous years. This is an urgent call for the State to adopt decisive measures to strengthen the mechanism for the protection of journalists at the federal level, coordinating with the states and strengthen the Special Prosecutor's Office for the Attention of Crimes committed against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE)," said the IACHR Special Rapporteur, Edison Lanza.


In the aforementioned Special Report on the Situation of Freedom of Expression in Mexico 2018, the Office of the Special Rapporteur recommended that the federal government implement a prevention policy given the seriousness of the crisis of violence against journalists and communicators in the country. Among other measures, it was recommended to establish a person in charge of compiling disaggregated statistics of attacks against the press, to adopt a public speech in recognition of the work of journalists, and to implement contingency plans for States such as Guerrero, Veracruz, and Chihuahua, where there is a particular risk for the exercise of journalism.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur recommends that the Mexican State allocates more resources to FEADLE due to the magnitude of the problem of violence they face and recalls that both the death of journalist María Elena Ferral as well as all other cases must be investigated as a matter of priority, and that the investigations should continue for a series of cases of murders of journalists whose contribution was essential for their communities.


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 as for citizens who seek to report abuses of power or illegal acts of any nature.


Principle 9 of the IACHR Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression states that: "[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.