Freedoms of Expression and Assembly Narrow in Troubling Ways

Expression

Freedom of expression continues to be restricted in Mexico and journalists continue to work in a hostile environment illustrated by the several attacks against media workers reported in this update.  

A journalist in the state of Veracruz who had been in a government protection program for journalists was killed on 22nd August 2017. Cándido Ríos Vázquez, a reporter for the newspaper Diario de Acayucán, had been threatened in the past by a former mayor of Hueyapan de Ocampo. Because of the threats he received, he had been included in the Mechanism for Protection for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists since 2013 - a programme that, as reported in a previous Monitor update, has been criticised for failing to provide meaningful protections. He was gunned down outside a grocery store with two other people, one of whom was a former police officer, according to reports. Alexandra Ellerbeck North America Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists stated in response to the killing:

"Ending the impunity in attacks on journalists is the only way to stop such murders, which have made Veracruz the deadliest place in the Western Hemisphere for journalists”.

On 15th August, a journalist was viciously attacked by two men at his home in in the state of Puebla. Fredy Morales Salas, a reporter from the local radio show Enlace Serrano, was stabbed dozens of times and received serious wounds to his neck, chest and throat. Local officials are investigating the attack and have said Salas’ work as a reporter on local issues in the states of Puebla and Veracruz could be the motivation behind it. To safeguard the injured journalist, he has been placed under state surveillance and enrolled in the federal programme to protect journalists.

Héctor de Mauleón, a columnist for El Universal, has reportedly received multiple death threats, including an online video showing a man shooting six gunshots into a photo of his face. In that video, a voice is heard saying, “Sr. Héctor the sentence is about to be fulfilled, death has come”. The country’s National Human Rights Commission condemned the incident, and the state’s Attorney General’s Office has opened a case to investigate the threat. This is not the first time the journalist has received threats. Previously, online threats were made after he reported on sensitive issues, such as drug activity in Mexico City.

On 22nd August, a freelance journalist was attacked while carrying out an undercover investigation of drug dealers at Ciudad Universitaria, the primary campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Humberto Padgett was seriously injured after going undercover to purchase narcotics from local drug dealers. When his hidden camera was discovered, Padgett was threatened at gunpoint by several men, recounting the incident as follows:

"Then they take me to a corner, they take things away, I resist, I try to hold the camera and at that moment one of them points me with an automatic pistol, puts it to me a few inches from the face and gives me the count, telling me that if I did not turn in the camera I would be shot”.

According to reports, the men took his identification card and assaulted him. Article 19 has called on the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression to investigate the attack as "diligently, impartially, objectively and exhaustively " as possible.

On 20th August, Sigifredo de la Cerda, a reporter with Zocalo, was attacked and detained by local authorities in Sabinas, Coahuila after attempting to photograph police officers conducting arrests of suspects. According to Article 19, de la Cerda identified himself as a journalist, but was still attacked by multiple officers and then later accused of assaulting police officers and resisting arrest. He denied the charges, and eventually most of them were dropped. One officer claimed that they did not know he was a journalist because he failed to wear a vest marked with the word “PRESS”. After several hours of detention in handcuffs, de la Cerda was released but later noticed that photographs and other information related to the incident had been deleted.

On 24th August, dozens of people witnessed a reporter for El Sur hit by a speeding car while riding his motorcycle in a shopping center parking lot in Iguala. Alejandro Guerrero, who has extensively documenting corruption among government officials and cases of the disappeared, suffered serious injuries to head and chest and was hospitalised for three days. Later, authorities released a statement claiming that he was struck outside of the parking lot, but that report conflicted with the evidence at the scene.

"It was with all the intention to hit me", Guerrero said of the car who hit him.

On 27th August, a reporter for Portal Press Room says he was attacked, threatened and handcuffed by police agents while reporting on the discovery of a 6-year old found dead in Celaya. Mako Sierra claims that State Ministerial Police assaulted him and took his equipment after he approached the area where the child’s body had been found and began recording the scene with his cell phone camera. Sierra says he identified himself as a journalist, but police officers took his cell phone, struck him on the face and back and verbally threatened him before detaining him. "

"They handcuffed me …and told me that's why they were going to kill me or I do not know what the threat said, pushed me with the forearm in the back when I was already handcuffed,” Sierra later said.

Two other journalists were also threatened at the scene, according to Article 19.

On 29th August, two journalists were temporarily stopped at a security checkpoint and received death threats from a Tlaxcala state police officer as they crossed into the town. Jose Maria Molestros Buenavista. Virjilio Osorio Nava and Montserrat Angel Rogelio, both working for El Gritón and El Mundo de Tlaxcala, were trying to cross the checkpoint when the officer began harassing them because of their profession, even going so far as to threaten their lives. The officer reportedly took and damaged their press credentials, broke their equipment, upon noticing one of the journalists was recording the incident, and handcuffed them. Eventually another officer intervened and the reporters were allowed to depart.

On multiple occasions in August, several journalists were stopped by private security officers at a checkpoint as they attempted to report on the UN’s visit to the Talicoyunque community in the state of Jalisco. Mario Marlo (Somos El Medio), Darío Pereira (NTR Guadalajara), Alfonso Hernández (NTR Guadalajara), Jade Ramírez (Radio UDG), and an unnamed EFE reporter, were attempting to report on the visit by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights in regard to some local water and territory disputes. However, the media professionals were prevented from crossing the border by SEGMEG, a private security force. The company was hired by the State Water Commission to monitor the resettlement of communities. After being stopped, Mario Marlo said, “We were denied entry as media. In the checkpoint grid it was possible to see a blanket with a message that said: "Private property. No media. Atte Federal Government, Grasias" (sic). The reporters were denied entry by the security forces on at least two occasions.

Data from the first half of 2017 compiled by Article 19 indicates that a journalist in Mexico is attacked every 16 hours. In the first half of the year, there were at least 276 incidents reported, including six deaths and one reporter still missing. Just over half of the attacks were committed by government officials.

Peaceful Assembly

On 23rd August, hundreds gathered in Mexico City to protest the murder of Cándido Ríos Vázquez, a crime reporter for the newspaper Diario de Acayucán. The protesters covered the steps of the Ministry of Interior with photographs of Vázquez, who had been threatened by a former mayor of Hueyapan de Ocampo since 2012 before being gunned down outside a grocery store, as reported in the section on Freedom of Expression.

In a separate incident, to mark the third anniversary of the 43 missing Ayotzinapa students, thousands of people  took to the streets to hold a silent protest. Additionally, in the days prior to the anniversary, a bus carrying 60 students was reportedly fired upon by armed Guerrero state police and several of the students were stopped for at least two hours after refusing to pay a toll. The parents of the missing students condemned the aggressive police action and called for an investigation into the bus incident.

Thousands marched in several cities in Mexico on 17th September, calling for government action to combat violence against women after a 19-year-old was killed while using a ride-hailing app. The whereabouts of Mara Fernanda Castilla were unknown until her body was found on 15th September in the nearby state of Puebla. Many of the protesters chanted or held signs saying that read "ni una mas" (not one more) and "no fue tu culpa" (it was not your fault). The hashtag #SiMeMatan was trending over the weekend following her death. Amnesty International declared

"It is not the victim fault, it is the State who has normalized violence".

On 1st September, hundreds of people rallied in Mexico City to protest the second round of talks aimed at revamping the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Many of the protesters were small farmers and union members, including labour activists from Canada, who converged on the country’s legislature to demand that NAFTA be revised in ways to benefit workers.

Regarding legislative developments, a seemingly conflicting rule that requires parties to give notice before holding demonstrations in Mexico City was published in the Official Gazette of Mexico City on 15th September. The ruling runs counter to the Supreme Court ruling in August 2016 that said the law should not be interpreted as imposing an authorisation requirement for demonstrations, but only as a rule allowing people to notify authorities in advance of any planned protests. The current rule states that demonstrations "must have a perfectly lawful purpose" and that "prior notice must be given" by means of a writing where are requested, so that "the authorities provide the necessary facilities for public demonstrations," and a series of requirements: full name of the person organising it, name of the demonstration, start and finish time, place and route, estimated number of attendees, and number and type of vehicles to be used. Article 19 and others civil society organisations stated that all the requested requirements "could leave protesters in a vulnerable position and could inhibit the right to protest".  

Association

As previously reported on the Monitor, an investigation revealed how Mexican authorities had used NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to target journalists, human rights defenders and anti-corruption activists. UN human rights experts called on the government to end the surveillance of activists and journalists and to conduct a fully impartial investigation into the illegal spying.

"The allegations of surveillance, which represent a serious violation of the rights to privacy, freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of association, are highly concerning and are evidence of the hostile and threatening environment that human rights defenders, social activists and journalists face in Mexico today," U.N. experts said in a joint statement.