Mexican government uses spyware against journalists and HRDs

Association

On 19th June 2017, Citizen Lab, Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales (R3D), SocialTIC and Article 19 Mexico published the results of an investigation, showing that Mexican authorities had used NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to target journalists, human rights defenders (HRDs) and anti-corruption activists. According to Privacy International, NSO Group is a surveillance technology company founded in 2010 in Israel that “sells products and services exclusively to government clients for law enforcement and intelligence-gathering purposes”. It was also reported that since 2011, the government of Mexico has "purchased about $80 million worth of spyware created by an Israeli cyberarms manufacturer”.

Targeted journalists and HRDs have included Carmen Aristegui, Carlos Loret de Mola, Salvador Camarena and Daniel Lizárraga. In addition, activists working with the Centro Miguel Agustin Pro Juárez (Centro Prodh), an organisation representing the families of 43 students who went missing in the city of Iguala in 2014 were also impacted by the surveillance.

Regarding the government's actions, the director of CentroProdh stated:

“We have always suspected they spied on us and listened to us [...] But to have evidence that we are victims of actual surveillance — it confirms that we are under threat. And that the government is willing to use illegal measures to try and stop us”.

As reported on the Monitor in February 2017, civil society claimed that the surveillance software was also used by the government to target groups involved in the “soda tax” campaign. 

Expression

The environment for journalists operating in Mexico continues to be hostile, with the number of journalists killed increasing. In May 2017, Javier Valdez, an award-winning journalist who co-founded the media outlet RioDoce, was shot dead in Sinaloa. Valdez was forced from his car and shot more than a dozen times. He was a reporter covering issues related to organised crime and drug trafficking. Regarding the killing, Amnesty International Mexico stated

“Being a journalist in Mexico seems more like a death sentence than a profession. The continuing bloodshed that the authorities prefer to ignore has created a deep void that is damaging the right to freedom of expression in the country”.

In a separate incident, journalist Salvador Adame was abducted in Michoacán on 18th May 2017 and found death almost a month later on 14th June. According to reports, he was forced to get into a black SUV by armed men. According to Article 19 Mexico, Adame’s family was under pressure during the investigation into his death as the Prosecutor's Office did not want the press publishing information about the case and therefore asked them to “control what is been published on the news”.  Those providing psychological support to the family also asked them “not to talk to anyone” about the case. Furthermore, the family is also concerned about gaps in the investigation. Therefore, Article 19 Mexico has demanded that the Prosecutor's Office give the family access to the investigation files, including the results which identified the journalist's body.

Journalists have also been subjected to harassment, threats and intimidation. According to reports, in May 2017 Genaro Lozano's house in Mexico City was broken into. The journalist reported that only a watch was stolen. After condemning the break in, Genaro received death threats on social media. 

In the context of the June 2017 regional elections, the Red #RompeElMiedo documented 19 cases of violations of freedom of expression, including nine acts of intimidation, eight physical attacks, one journalist detained and one attack against a media outlet. 

Peaceful Assembly

Several protests took place in Mexico over the last few months. On 15th May, as part of Teacher’s Day, teachers marched in nine cities across the country calling for a repeal of the 2013 educational reforms, among other changes. Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educacion also launched an “indefinite” strike to bring more attention to the need for educational reform.

Activists from Canada, USA, and Mexico traveled to Mexico City to protest a meeting between Mexico and Canada to discuss amending NAFTA. Citing the significant impact the trade deal has had on citizens' daily lives, civil society groups from all three countries called for the renegotiation process to be transparent and inclusive.

Another demonstration took place in Netzahualcoyotl to demand justice for the murder and sexual assault of an 11-year-old girl and called on the government to stop gender-based violence.