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Last updated on 05.04.2018 at 13:15

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Multiple reports of threats made by government officials and police against journalists

Multiple reports of threats made by government officials and police against journalists

Freedom of expression continues to be restricted in Mexico as public officials, security forces and non-state actors continue to harras and intimidate journalists

Expression

Intimidation and harassment by local officials and non-state actors

On 1st February 2018, the mayor of Ciudad Juárez, Armando Cabada, made menacing comments toward Héctor González, a prominent journalist at Televisa Chihuahua. "Damn reporter… your days are numbered," he threatened. He then attempted to assault the journalist but was prevented from doing so by his own security guards. González claims that “the mayor’s office has launched a campaign of persecution against those who present data different from the official versions that declare that everything is fine and functioning perfectly”.

On 9th February 2018, the mayor or Zitácuaro, Juan Carlos Herrera Tello, filed a criminal complaint against Contramuro, accusing the media outlet of “attacking his honor” after it reported last August that he may have played a role in the disappearance of a large sum of money. Contramuro says that another media outlet, Monitor Expresso, first reported on the missing money and responded to the mayor’s legal action against it, calling it “a pretext for journalist censorship”. At a press conference a week later, Azucena Silva, the editorial director for Contramuro, called for amending the legal code to protect the work of journalists, stating that:

"It is necessary that legislators reform the current penal code in the state to prevent public officials from using the (legal) figure as a means of coercion of journalists and media; this violates the freedom of expression of these and the right to information of citizens”.

According to Article 19, such criminal complaints against media workers as described in the previous incident still persist in nine jurisdictions - Campeche, Colima, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Michoacán, Nayarit, Nuevo León, Sonora, Yucatán - and that such complaints and criminal cases brought against journalists suppress their right to free speech.

In a separate incident, it was reported that Mayor Leticia López Landero in Córdoba is allegedly behind the harassment of the newspaper El Mundo. According to newspaper staff, municipal employees escorted by local police have approached newspaper vendors in the street telling them to stop selling El Mundo or that they did not have permission to sell the newspaper.

On 15th March 2018, a police officer attacked and harassed a reporter who was covering an accident in San Luis Potosí. Video shows an officer knock the camera out of Everardo González’s hand as he was answering the officer’s questions and recording the accident scene. González says the officer told him to “walk with care” before exiting the area. Article 19 notes that González is enrolled in the Special Commission for the Protection of Journalists of San Luis Potosí. Regarding the Special Commission, the reporter asserted that, "if [it] had been well implemented, the ministerial police officer would never have attacked me".

Two journalists with El Mundo de Tlaxcala who reported being attacked by police last year claim they each have recently received threats. During a hearing with police on the attacks, journalist Virjilio Osorio says one officer told him, “you die”, and shaped his hand like a gun and pointed it at him. The next day, he woke to find a dog that had been viciously attacked put in front of his house. Journalist Monserrat Angel Rogelio told Article 19 that someone tried to break into his house after he had identified the police officers who had assaulted him. 

On 17th March, Jose Luis Montenegro, a reporter with RT en Español, received a threatening message on his phone, to which he responded: "As soon as they see that there is critical information, hard information, they resort to these types of practices to achieve self-censorship, that you retract or intimidate yourself, or that you no longer touch certain topics. There is a kind of intention and that worries me, I cannot freely exercise my journalistic activity".

A reporter for ELTV says he was threatened by an unidentified man while walking in the street in Mexicali. According to Article 19, Enrique Luengas was approached by a man who asked who he was and said, “(....) Do not overdo it. Well, you’ve been warned (...), first strike”.  Luengas says he had not realised the extent of the danger he could be in until this brazen confrontation on the street. Luengas has reported on corruption in Baja California. 

A prominent newspaper published in Nuevo Laredo has seen a spike in false online accounts and web pages purporting to be associated with the newspaper. Representatives from El Mañana de Nuevo Laredo say that false online profiles, websites and posts containing the newspaper’s logo and name are being used to promote or praise local and state governments. This appears to be the latest attack on the newspaper which has been targeted by government officials in the past.

Attacks against journalists

Five reporters investigating attacks on local farming communities were held at gunpoint in Caborca, Sonora. According to Article 19, the reporters were stopped, questioned and threatened by armed men who claimed to be working on behalf of Rafael Pavlovich," the uncle of the governor of Sonora”. In the past year, several farmers and community leaders have been kidnapped or attacked in the area.

On 15th February 2018, a reporter based in Ciudad Juárez said in an online post that his home was broken into for the second time in the past year. Carlos Omar Barranco, a journalist for Norte Digital who covers politics and corruption in the area, said his front door was kicked in and that someone had gone through his possessions but nothing was taken. In December 2017, he reported a similar style break in when someone stole his TV.

One day after a reporter for El Sol de Istmo was reported missing, his car was found abandoned in a neighbouring town without any sign of his whereabouts. Agustín Silva Vázquez was last seen on the evening of 21st January outside a bar and his family reporting him missing the next day. Family members indicated that the journalist was a witness during a military operation where three people were arrested.

Killing of journalists

On 24th January, a newspaper vendor was gunned down in the streets of Tabasco. Tiul Meréndez Hernández was shot and killed after a group of men approached him while he was working. Some believe it was to silence him after he witnessed and reported a crime while he was in his car, which is labeled with the name of the newspaper.

On 5th February, a popular blogger, Pamela Montenegro, also known by the pseudonym Nana Pelucas, was killed by two unidentified men in a restaurant in Acapulco. Mostly known for doing skits satirising local politics, one of the characters she portrayed online was mentioned in a threatening message hung on a bridge by narco-traffickers in 2016. An anonymous reporter said that “this murder is a message” to intimidate those who speak out, and that in many cases government officials “are colluding” with organised crime to suppress dissent.

Arbitrary detention

On 16th March, two reporters in Palenque were detained on false charges; mistreated by officers at the jail; and fined after recording police violently arresting a suspect in the street. After Luis Ángel Martínez Peñaloza of Noti Chiapas and Miguel Ángel Lazo May of Noticias ML intervened in the arrest, they say a police officer told them they themselves would be arrested. After more police arrived on the scene, the two journalists were arrested for obstructing police work. Later that night, a judge dismissed their case for lack of evidence, but not before they had their possessions stolen by police, were stripped searched, denied access to medication and detained for 11 hours in a cell.

Peaceful Assembly

Environmental-related protests

On 9th February, activists opposing a hydroelectric project in Puebla were traveling home in a rented bus when armed masked men stopped them and set their bus on fire. According to media reports, the attackers made everyone get off the bus before they sprayed it with gasoline and set it on fire. While the motive behind the attack is unknown, some of the activists believe it was done to intimidate them from speaking out against the Atzala-Coyolapa hydroelectric project, which they claim will harm the local environment.

On 12th February, nearly 1,000 people from San Pancho protested a tourism development complex to be built in an area the activists claim was previously part of the nesting zone of sea turtles. They are calling on Environment Secretariat to review the development plans and stop them from moving forward.

On 9th March, a protest over a chemical plant in Durango turned violent as police clashed with some of the 500 people who gathered to block the road to the plant. Riot police were used to suppress the crowd, and “officers reportedly used sticks, rocks, extinguishers and tear gas against the protesters, who in turn answered with stones and Molotov cocktails, resulting in three officers injured,” according to Telesur. Arrests were made, though unclear how many. Members of the Frente Unido de Pueblos de La Laguna en Defensa de la Vida y el Territorio (United Front of La Laguna Peoples in Defense of Life and Land) have been protesting the Chemours Laguna project which they say will produce 65,000 tons of cyanide if it becomes operational.

Workers rights related protests

Unpaid wages and layoffs prompted healthcare workers in Oaxaca to block roadways in various parts of the state. According to Mexico Daily News, workers set up at least ten highway blockades affecting traffic going to Mexico City, the airport and other places. Doctors and nurses also protested outside of government buildings to express their anger over the dismissals of about 2,000 healthcare workers and unpaid bonuses.

Members of the Mexican Trade Union of Teachers blocked railroad tracks in the state of Michoacan to protest unpaid wages and other benefits owed to them by the state. The blockades were conducted at multiple locations across the state, including Lázaro Cárdenas, Uruapan and Pátzcuaro. At least 60 teachers participating in the protest were arrested. The blockade caused the closure of a car plant that relies on receiving supplies by rail.

Women rights related protests

Showing solidarity with women around the world, thousands of people took to the streets across Latin America on International Women’s Day - 8th March. In Mexico City, thousands of women marched to demand justice for the many murdered and missing women across the country. The Center for Digital Culture and Wikipedia Mexico also called for volunteers to edit “hundreds of Wikipedia entries dedicated to extraordinary Mexican women in the fields of science, literature, music, sports, journalism and the arts,” according to the New York Times.

Other protests

Violent drug-trafficking cartels are creating unsafe spaces for medical personnel, according to healthcare workers protesting the dangerous conditions in the state of Chihuahua and demanding better security in remote parts of the state. The protests began last year after Blas Juan Godinez, a hospital director in Gomez Farias, was kidnapped for refusing to provide medical attention to members of a drug cartel.

On 31st January, people marched in Mexico City to express their opposition toward a recently-adopted security law that would increase militarisation of the country. As part of National Struggle Day, protesters said the new Internal Security Law, which drew widespread criticism from human rights groups domestically and worldwide, was passed in a rushed manner without proper debate or opportunity to make changes. Protests against the law at the time of its passing were covered in recent Monitor reports.

Association in Mexico

The freedom of association is constitutionally recognised and regulated by the Federal Law for the Promotion of Activities Undertaken by Civil Society Organisations.

The freedom of association is constitutionally recognised and regulated by the Federal Law for the Promotion of Activities Undertaken by Civil Society Organisations. There are no legal restrictions on foreign funding; in fact, a 1994 tax treaty with the United States encourages cross-border donations. However, new anti-money laundering legislation has made procedures more burdensome and intrusive for CSOs, with a particularly negative impact on smaller and grassroots organisations. The context in some parts of the country, which is characterised by widespread and systematic human rights abuses, is hostile for human rights defenders, who frequently face attacks, stigmatisation, judicial harassment and threats by the government, corporations and armed individuals linked to organised crime. From 2012 to 2014, at least 32 human rights defenders were killed. Women’s rights activists and indigenous, environmental and land rights defenders are particularly at risk. The 2012 Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists that created a protection mechanism and guidelines for public institutions to work together to protect defenders at risk has not yet been effectively implemented and remains underfunded.

Peaceful Assembly in Mexico

The freedom of peaceful assembly is guaranteed by the constitution. Municipalities and states apply their own regulations and administrative procedures, often including notification requirements.

The freedom of peaceful assembly is guaranteed by the constitution. Municipalities and states apply their own regulations and administrative procedures, often including notification requirements. Local organisations have documented at least 10 legislative initiatives that aim to limit the right to peaceful assembly. As demonstrations in small local communities receive little media coverage, protests are typically taken to state capitals and Mexico City, where thousands of protest events take place every year. Some protests do become violent and are harshly repressed with reported cases of arbitrary detention, excessive use of force and even the torture of protestors. For example, in a 2012 protest in Mexico City, 99 arbitrary detentions and six cases of torture were documented. In some states like Puebla, legislation allows police to use firearms or deadly force to break up protests. Recently, during a teachers’ protest, six people were killed and more than 100 injured as a consequence of the excessive use of force by police to disperse the protests.

Expression in Mexico

Although the freedom of expression is constitutionally recognised, Mexico is one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists, and Oaxaca, Guerrero, Veracruz, Zacatecas, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas are some of its most dangerous states.

Although the freedom of expression is constitutionally recognised, Mexico is one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists, and Oaxaca, Guerrero, Veracruz, Zacatecas, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas are some of its most dangerous states. 2015 was one of the most violent years for media workers in Mexico, with 397 attacks on the press by state and non-state actors. In the first three months of 2016, 69 attacks against the press were documented, including the murders of six journalists during 2016. At the state and municipal levels, widespread impunity has resulted in equally widespread self-censorship; media coverage of violence, drug trafficking and corruption has therefore declined. A 2013 constitutional amendment made Internet access a civil right and no restrictions have been placed on content; nevertheless, online attacks against journalists are becoming more common.Mexico adopted access to information legislation in 2002, but actual access to public information remains problematic, particularly at the state and local levels. In order to improve the access to information situation, Congress recently passed the General Transparency and Public Information Access Law. While defamation was decriminalised at the federal level in 2007, 12 out of 32 states still have criminal defamation laws and use them to intimidate journalists.

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