Freedom of Expression

Press release R16/22

The Office of the Special Rapporteur condemns the murders of journalists José Luis Gamboa Arenas and Alfonso Margarito Martínez Esquivel in Mexico

21 January 2022

Washington D.C.- The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the murders of journalists José Luis Gamboa Arenas, in the city of Veracruz, and Alfonso Margarito Martínez Esquivel, in the city of Tijuana. This Office urges the State to investigate the facts with the utmost diligence, punish those responsible, and redouble its efforts to ensure the respect and guarantee of the human rights of journalists.

According to available information, journalist José Luis Gamboa Arenas reportedly died on January 10, 2022 after being the victim of an attack in the port of Veracruz. José Luis Gamboa was the general director of the digital newspaper El Regional del Norte - Inforegio, where he reported on local public interest issues. He was also known for sharing information and analysis on political issues on his social networks. According to the governor of the State of Veracruz, the main line of investigation underway would be his journalistic work as a possible motive for the murder.

According to reports, photojournalist Alfonso Margarito Martínez Esquivel was killed in an armed attack by an unknown assailant outside his home on January 17. The photojournalist was known for his extensive work covering police and security issues for various local internet portals, as well as national and international media. As far as the Rapporteur's Office was able to learn, the Secretary of Security and Citizen Protection of Tijuana indicated that the first information provided by the investigation indicates that the events could have originated from "personal problems between neighbors", but that "the State Attorney General's Office would be in charge of carrying out the corresponding investigation". Additionally, the State Attorney General's Office confirmed the death of the reporter through a statement, in which it warned that "freedom of expression, in all its forms, is a fundamental right of citizens" and that the entity "always works within its power of legal action, for the safety of media representatives in Baja California". According to information provided by civil society organizations, last December 13, the reporter had requested protection measures from the Baja California state agency, but up to the time of the facts there have been no responses from the authorities in charge.

This Office considers that these reported murders should be taken into account by the State in order to deepen prevention measures and implement institutional protection urgently and effectively; and to promote the knowledge and appropriation of the press about the available protection mechanisms.

The Rapporteur’s Office was informed that in 2022 the Mexican authorities would promote a "National System of Prevention and Protection for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists". It was informed that this National System would be based on a law -to be presented this year to the Congress of the Union-, which would also contemplate the creation of a "National Prevention Model", a "National Registry of Aggressions" and a "National Protection Protocol". According to the information received, within the framework of the drafting of the bill, there are plans to convene dialogues in different regions of the country with relevant actors, the first of which took place on January 17 and 18, 2022, with the participation of beneficiaries of the Protection Mechanism, journalists, civil society organizations, representatives of international organizations, academics and public servants of the Mexican government.

According to Principle 9 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the IACHR, "the murder, kidnapping, intimidation, threats to social communicators, as well as the material destruction of the media, violate the fundamental rights of individuals and severely restrict freedom of expression. It is the duty of the States to prevent and investigate these acts, punish the perpetrators and ensure adequate reparation for the victims".

The Rapporteur’s Office observes with extreme concern that, in the course of one week and a few days before the beginning of the year, two journalists have been murdered in Mexico. In 2021, this Office reported the murder of at least eight journalists, among other serious cases of violence against the press. Therefore, the Office reiterates its call for the Mexican State to strengthen the mechanisms for the protection of journalists, redouble its efforts to guarantee access to effective and expeditious justice, and punish the perpetrators and masterminds of crimes against the press. Likewise, the Office of the Special Rapporteur insists on the duty of state authorities to emphatically reject violence against communicators since, as has been previously stated, there is nothing more permissive to the repetition of violence against the press than the absence of a forceful institutional reaction.

Finally, this Office welcomes the start out of the "First Regional Dialogue to generate a General Law Initiative for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists", promoted by the Ministry of the Interior. Adequate and increasingly robust legislative frameworks are important steps for the defense of the exercise of freedom of expression in Mexico. The Inter-American human rights system has developed various recommendations on the subject, and this office is at the disposal of the Mexican State to join these efforts through technical cooperation if requested by the State. However, the Rapporteur’s Office also adheres to the call of the OHCHR Office in Mexico and recalls that the law in question must observe the standards of international human rights law, and that it must necessarily be accompanied by institutional efforts for its effective implementation, in order to promote the changes that it would propose.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to encourage the hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in the consolidation and development of the democratic system.