Two environmental and indigenous rights defenders murdered in northern state of Chihuahua

Association

During the first few weeks of 2017, two prominent activists were murdered in separate incidents in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. At least five activists have been killed in the state since 2013.

Isidro Baldenegro López, an indigenous leader of the Tarahumara community who fought to protect the forests of Mexico's Sierra Madre from illegal logging, was murdered in mid-January. Baldenegro López was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2005 and had made powerful enemies among local criminal groups, drug traffickers and loggers due to his activism. According to local reports, he had only recently returned to his community after a long period in exile because of threats made against him and his family.

Less than two weeks later, another environmental and indigenous rights defender, Juan Ontiveros, was gunned down after reportedly informing the authorities about the increasing presence and impact of organised crime within his community.

In mid-February, over 20 NGOs signed an open letter calling on the Mexican government to "stop the threats and surveillance against researchers and civil society organizations.” Several academics and members of public health advocacy groups had reportedly been targeted by spyware developed by NSO Group, a surveillance software company that sells its products exclusively to governments. According to the evidence, the attacks were carried out in retaliation to the groups' advocacy efforts for a soda tax and their criticisms of inadequate food labeling regulations. In fact, the timing of the cyber attacks coincided with the launch of a joint effort by public health advocacy groups and researchers to campaign for a doubling of the soda tax.

Luis Fernando García, the director of the Network in Defence of Digital Rights (Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales), a Mexican CSO known by its acronym R3D, declared: 

 "This is proof that surveillance in Mexico is out of control. [...] When we have proof that this surveillance is being used against nutritional activists, it’s clear Mexico should not be given these technologies.”

NSO spyware had previously been found on the phones of a human rights activist in the United Arab Emirates and a Mexican journalist who reported on a luxury home custom-built for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and his wife, which was actually owned by the subsidiary of a Chinese company awarded government contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Peaceful Assembly

On 12th February, tens of thousands of people in more than a dozen cities across Mexico took to the streets to condemn US President Donald Trump's treatment of Mexico and to express dissatisfaction with their own president, Enrique Peña Nieto, and other Mexican politicians. Dubbed Vibra Mexico ("Mexican vibe" or "Mexico moves"), the protest was organised by more than 70 civic groups, universities and NGOs.

According to official estimates, more than 20,000 people demonstrated in Mexico City, where the march stretched out for more than a mile down the Paseo de la Reforma to the Angel of Independence, a common site for protests. No violence was reported. The various signs on display during the protests read, "Trump, pay for your own wall!” and “Undocumented Mexican immigrants are not criminals or rapists.They are hardworking, friendly people. Just ask any American employer and you’ll see.” And another sign read, “Thanks, Trump, for uniting us.”

Also, in early February, thousands of people in Mexico City and across the country marched against the sharp increase in gas prices — dubbed the “el gasolinazo” — that went into effect in January. Pockets of violence broke out in several places during the protests, leading to the deaths of six people and the arrest of 1,500. Hundreds of gas stations across the country locked their doors over fears of looting and the United States temporarily closed the border at Tijuana.

Expression

Several journalists covering the gas protests in cities across the country reported being assaulted by law enforcement officers. In the state of Baja California, Laura Sánchez of El Universal, Luis Alonso Pérez of Animal Político, and Jesús Bustamante of Frontera reported that they were beaten by members of the state police and the federal Gendarmería.

Reporters from media outlets, including Frontera, Uniradio Informa, Síntesis Televisión and the Associated Press, were among those attacked or intimidated by police during the protests in other cities. In Monclova, Coahuila state, journalists covering the protests were assaulted by state police and members of the Group of Special Weapons Tactics of Monclova (GATEM). At least four reporters were injured.