Impunity for attacks on journalists draws international scrutiny

Expression

More transparency in government spending on advertising

In a move widely praised by free press advocates, the Supreme Court issued a ruling on 15th November that encourages more transparency in government spending on advertising. The ruling orders the federal congress to legislate on and regulate the distribution of official advertising before the start of the political campaign season on 30th April 2018. Without proper regulation, press advocates like Article 19 argue that: 

“Federal and local governments use official advertising to shape editorial lines and push partisan agendas”. 

The Inter-American Press Association also praised the ruling saying it addresses “a very subtle and perverse form of indirect censorship”. The original case was brought by Article 19 with the purpose of creating “a legal and regulatory environment that allows all media operators to develop their activities in the service of democracy without any interference in their editorial freedom”.

Intimidation, threats and attacks for reporting on corruption

On 31st October, a reporter exposing government abuses on Facebook had his account hijacked by hackers who changed the content and threatened his sister. Félix Bigman, who works for Tu Espacio del Sureste and other media outlets, was denied access to his own Facebook account after making several attempts to sign in. Bigman had been using the website to publish information related to corruption in Kanasín, Yucatan municipal government. According to Article 19, this move to intimidate him is not an isolated incident. Bigman has been at the receiving end of “death threats, beating, arbitrary detentions, and smear campaigns,” and is currently enrolled in the federal programme to help protect journalists.

Reports that local police detained and murdered Edgar Daniel Esqueda Castro for his reporting on corrupt police officers began soon after his body was found on 6th October. Staff for the Attorney General's Office of the State of San Luis Potosí found his body, which showed signs of being tortured, just one day after he was arrested at his home. According to his relatives, the police did not provide an explanation of why he was being detained. With reports of organised crime infiltrating the local police and of journalists being intimidated by police officers to not report on criminal activity, Article 19 reports that the conditions for exercising the right to freedom of expression in San Luis Potosí “is at its lowest historic point”.

On 15th November, a journalist from El Sur was assaulted by a group of armed men who purposely left falsified documents related to multiple murders in his car. In an interview with Article 19, Ciriaco Zacarías Cervantes said that the men roughed him up, took his cell phone and left behind a copy of El Sur newspaper in his car with “a note signed by the journalist, in which it is confirmed that the bodies found inside a truck burned on the Chilapa-Ahuacuotzingo highway are from the former state president of the Party of the Democratic Revolution”.

Media outlets and journalists that investigate state corruption are increasingly being targeted by government officials trying to silence them, according to free press advocates. A newspaper in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, for example, is facing three lawsuits from two local officials who featured prominently in stories the paper printed about government abuse and corruption. Daniel Rosas, the editor of the paper told the Inter American Press Association, that the lawsuits are an attempt to curb “independent voices and imposing censorship upon media critical of the government". This is not the first time the newspaper and its staff have been subjected to threats and violence. In January, three of its staff were attacked, and twice in the past decade armed men attacked their office with grenades. In Chiapas, a smear campaign against two journalists was started by the mayor of Tuxtla. Journalists Sandra de los Santos and Gabriela Coutiño have been called “liars” for their roles in reporting on local government spending.

In a move to intimidate journalists from covering violent crime in San José del Cabo, the names of two journalists were included in a threatening message posted on a bridge on 24th October. Cuauhtemoc Morgan and Hermelinda Vargas, both members of the Colectivo Pericú, said that this is not the first time they have been threatened. For example, Vargas said local authorities have in the past prevented her from conducting her work despite identifying herself as a members of the press. Article 19 says “these intimidations and acts of harassment are related to the publications of the media about corruption where municipal agents are involved,” and called on the government to investigate these threats.

In response to an increasingly dangerous and restrictive environment for journalists in the country, two experts made a country visit to evaluate the ongoing situation. David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, and Edison Lanza, from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights started their visit on 27th November. At least 11 journalists have been killed this year, and the country has seen a notable increase in the number of crimes against journalists that go unsolved.

Only 10 percent of cases involving violent attacks against journalists in the country end in a conviction, says the head of the National Commission for Human Rights. Speaking at the Regional Forum on Freedom of Speech and Role of Journalists on 18th November, Luis Raul Gonzalez Perez said journalists are being targeted “to silence freedom of speech”. He expressed grave concerns about the government’s inadequate response to these crimes and said that if the impunity is not addressed, such attacks could "spread fear in society” and foment self-censorship.

Association

On 18th November 2017, it was reported that two miners were killed while protesting Media Luna mining company, which is owned by the Canadian company Torex Gold Resources in Guerrero State. A group aligned with the mining company has been accused of being behind the deaths. Since 3rd November, miners have been on strike seeking better pay and the right to join the National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel and Allied Workers of the Mexican Republic. The workers are being supported by the United Steelworkers in Canada and in the U.S. who have called on the Mexican government to investigate the deaths. The miners have pledged to continue their protests if their demands are not met.

Torex Gold Resources issued a statement after the incident, stating that "the two men were not employees of the Company" and regarding the miners; strike, the company claimed that:

"With regards to operations at the Company’s ELG Mine, there is no strike. There is an illegal blockade. Operations have been shut down at the ELG Mine site since November 3rd as a result of the illegal blockade, which arose because of a dispute between the union that legally represents the Company’s workers (the “CTM Union”) and the union that wants to represent the workers (the “Miners Union”)".

In a separate development, on 15th November a prominent union leader was released after three years in prison allegedly for his political activities. Ruben Sarabia Reyna, the leader of the Popular Union of Street Vendors, had been arrested in December 2014 for violating his probation. Once incarcerated in San Miguel prison, new charges of drug trafficking were added. His supporters had demonstrated for his release, saying that he had been targeted for his role in the union and that the drug charges were false. In addition, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a decision, stating that Reyna's had been arbitrarily incarcerated. 

Peaceful Assembly

Protests over government action on earthquake response

In November, hundreds of people from over 60 towns and villages demonstrated in Mexico City to denounce the government’s response to a 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck on 19th September. The devastation was widespread and at least 60 buildings collapsed or were significantly damaged, according to news reports. As part of the protest, residents wrote a letter to the government demanding immediate aid for the victims of the earthquake. Another demonstration was held on 25th November after Mexico City's Assembly passed legislation to rebuild parts of the city. Hundreds of people protested the city’s Reconstruction, Recuperation and Transformation of Mexico City Law, claiming that it falls short of helping those who need to rebuild or fix parts of their homes that were damaged during the quake. 

Parents and students staged multiple demonstrations to protest the government’s inadequate response to the destruction of hundreds of local schools in the earthquake. In Chiapas, parents prevented thousands of passengers on a cruise ship from touring nearby attractions by blocking the highways. In Mexico City, students and teachers at nearly 300 schools held classes outside to express their disappointment in the government’s rebuilding process. The protest was organised by the National Coordination of Education Workers.

Protests throughout the country on other issues

On 14th November, about 60 government workers in the city of Chilpancingo protested outside of a local prosecutor’s office to bring attention to unsanitary conditions caused by an overcrowded morgue. Media reports said that at least 500 corpses were being stored in the morgue. The government responded by saying it would take steps to make sure the situation “doesn’t happen again”.

On 1st November, dozens of women marched in downtown Mexico City to bring attention to violence against women and to call on the government to do more to prevent them. About 200 protesters held photos of murdered women and girls while chanting “not one more”. On 25th November, hundreds of people marched in Mexico City as part of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a global day of protest when similar events were held in Turkey, France, Chile, Italy, Mozambique, Sweden and Spain. 

On 11th November, people who had been deported from the U.S. after serving in the U.S. military staged a protest near the border in Ciudad Juarez. Many protesters expressed feelings of being mistreated by the country they served and some said they are missing out on health care and other benefits since being kicked out the country.