Protest actions surge ahead of July 2018 general elections

Peaceful Assembly

A number of protests and demonstrations have taken place recently in Mexico as people continue to exercise their right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

The first presidential debate took place in April 2018 in Mexico City, ahead of the country's general elections on 1st July. In that context, on 22nd April 2018, it was reported that workers from Sindicato Único de Trabajadores del Gobierno de la Ciudad de México (SUTCDMX) had gathered to show their opposition to one of the presidential candidates, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Although some of the union workers claimed that they were there on a voluntary basis, others reported that they were forced to participate in the protest under threat of losing their jobs. 

On 25th April, thousands of students and their supporters took to the streets of Guadalajara to protest the murder of three university students who went missing on 19th March. Mexican authorities have said that the three students, identified as Jesús Daniel Díaz, Salomón Aceves Gastélum and Marco Ávalos, were killed by members of a drug cartel, who then dissolved their remains in acid. Under the slogan 'NoSonTresSomosTodos' (We are not three, we are all) and 'Queremos arte, no violencia', (we want art, not violence) students called for justice to be served in the murder of the three students. 

On 29th April, members of a Central American migrant caravan traveled through Mexico to the U.S. border in support of migrant rights. Hundreds of migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador arrived in the Mexican border city of Tijuana on buses over several days, with most seeking legal asylum in the U.S. After two weeks of silence from the government, members of the caravan who decided to remain in Mexico began protesting the delays in granting visas. According to media reports,15 people started a hunger strike and over 100 people staged a demonstration outside immigration services offices in Hermosillo, the capital of Sonora state.

Residents of San Jerónimo Acazulco in the México state municipality of Ocoyoacac are participating in a protest along the entire length of a railway project under construction to connect Mexico City and Toluca. In response, the government deployed nearly 2,000 state and federal police officers on 24th April to protect the 600 workers on the project. Residents and activists have taken legal action challenging the construction company’s ownership claims to the land. 

On 21st April, demonstrators in Mexico City marched to mark 43 months since 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers' College disappeared. In an event known as '43 x 43 In the Heart', family members drew on the walls of a military barracks that they believe was involved in the students’ disappearance, according to Telesur. As covered in a previous a Monitor report, in 2014 the 43 students were traveling by bus to attend a protest in Iguala. The bus was reportedly intercepted by police officers who delivered the students to members of the Guerrero Unidos drug gang.

On 9th May, an indigenous group living in the mountains of western Mexico threatened to boycott the upcoming July election and block access to their communities, as part of an effort to reclaim control of their ancestral lands and water sources. Despite a legal victory that returned their lands, the Wixarika indigenous group has decried the government's failure to intervene, as local cattle ranchers have invaded the land and continue to chase out the indigenous community. The group set up four roadblocks, preventing candidates from reaching the communities living in the area, and have threatened to block access to the nearby municipalities of Mezquitic and Bolanos.

10th May 2018 marked the seventh consecutive year of Mother's Day protests in Mexico City. Hundreds of mothers and other protesters marched in the streets of the capital and other cities for the ‘March for National Dignity’ highlighting the fate of the disappeared. Many women wore shirts or held signs with pictures of loved ones. "Where are they?" they asked.

As reported on the Monitor, a series of protests took place in opposition to the construction of a brewery in Mexicali. Recently, it was reported that one of the leaders of the Mexicali Resiste movement, Leon Fierro Resendiz, was arrested for allegedly injuring a police officer. Police claim he tried to run over officers with his car during a January protest, but Resendiz denies the charge and says his arrest is politically motivated. He was arrested on 3rd May by ten police officers who did not have an arrest warrant.


Attacks on journalists persist in Mexico

On 21st March, Leobardo Vázquez Atzin was gunned down near his home in the municipality of Gutiérrez Zamora, Veracruz state. Atzin had recently launched his own platform, Enlace Informativo Regional, to cover local stories in Veracruz after having worked at several media outlets, including Noreste, La Opinión de Poza Rica and Vanguardia. A few months earlier, the journalist had received threats. According to Roberto Rock, chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, 

"this new murder, the third this year, shows the lack of security in Mexico to freely work as a journalist".

On 30th March, a veteran Tijuana journalist was reportedly threatened by the subject of one of his investigative reports. Odilón García reported that Iván Martín del Campo, known online as Iván Riebeling, recorded and sent him a threatening message that mentioned his work as a journalist. The State Human Rights Commission has opened an investigation into the threats against Odilón as well as against another journalist, Dora Elena Cortés, who similarly received a threatening message believed to be from Martin del Campo. Carmen Olsen, the director of Rosarito en la Noticia, has also been targeted by Iván Riebeling, who is reportedly behind a smear campaign against her by linking her journalistic work to organised crime.

On 4th April, Gabriela Rasgado, a journalist covering a court case concerning missing people, was accosted by lawyers and family members of the suspects. Gabriela Rasgado stated that after the court session ended, she was approached by people who identified themselves as part of the defendants’ legal team and family. They asked her to erase all the material she documented in court, and when she refused, saying that she was a journalist, one of them responded in a threatening manner thus, "We already know who you are and who you work for”.

Carlos Alberto Abad, an announcer for Organización Radiofónica del Papaloapan (Radio Organisation of Papaloapan), says he received several threatening online messages after a local official publicly blamed him for an incident that his organisation reported on and he shared through his personal social media account. Abad reported receiving Facebook messages threatening harm to his mother after Alberto López Moreno, the Municipal Agent of San Bartolo, Oaxaca, made a statement blaming Abad for a violent confrontation covered by his media outlet and shared on his social media account.

On 2nd May, José Castañares, a photojournalist with Jornada de Orientesays he was intimidated by members of presidential candidate José Antonio Meade Kuribreña’s security team after he posted a video showing lots of empty seats at a political event in Atlixco. The security team asked why he had posted the video and about his affiliation with any organisation. Castañares told Article 19:

"It is delicate that in an electoral context, in a moment of publication in social networks you immediately have someone looking for you and questioning you about what you went up, with what freedom can you upload or report something?"

On 25th April, two photojournalists and other reporters covering a homicide in front of the Municipal Palace were harassed by a person who allegedly works for the Attorney General of the State of Zacatecas. Emmanuel Escalona Llaguno and Missael Camarillo Torres say a man dressed in civilian clothing asked for their identification but would not identify who he was or whom he worked for. After telling the photographers to leave, he allegedly tried to knock the camera out of Torres’s hand. The man then started taking photos of all the reporters but gave no reason for doing so.

A digital reporter for Piñero de la Cuenca says he contacted authorities after he started receiving threatening online messages and noticed he was being followed by a man on a motorcycle. Article 19 notes that the online threats to Juan Alberto Carmona Contreras were accompanied by a photo that is linked to an investigation of officials in the Attorney General’s office from December 2017. At that time, Article 19 reported on the public official threatening Contreras which led him to request protection through the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists.

On 19th April, the office of Quadratín's Acapulco in Guerrero was burglarised. Items related to the media outlet’s work were stolen. The publication's editorial director Ricardo Castillo Díaz said that most of the missing items, which included documents, computers and other electronic devices, including a hard drive with archives of the publication, were taken while other valuables were left behind. A similar break-in occurred the next night at the home of one of Proceso's website editors in Mexico City. In that theft, hard drives, along with several memory cards, reporting notes, a desktop computer, and four suitcases with cameras and drones were stolen.

Positive steps towards ending impunity

According to the authorities, a suspect has been arrested for the killing of the journalist Javier Valdez. Valdez, an internationally-recognised reporter, was gunned down outside of his office in Culiacan on 15th May 2017. At least ten journalists, including Valdez, were killed in 2017.

On 28th March, prosecutors announced they had arrested six suspects in the January killing of journalist Carlos Dominguez, an incident that was reported in a previous Monitor update. Motives behind the murder are still under investigation, but some of those arrested may have worked as independent journalists, according to media reports.

Proposed legislation threatens to undermine media independence

New legislation was approved by the Senate regarding the regulation of official advertising. According to civil society, the legislation fails to promote media independence and freedom of expression. The law was enacted following a landmark decision by the Supreme Court which ordered Congress to develop regulations for government advertising before 30 April 2018, as previously reported on the Monitor.

According to Article 19, the lack of appropriate legal regulation of public advertising in Mexico results in pressure on media outlets and journalists through the biased, opaque allocation of subsidies and public advertising. In the absence of precise and clear rules, federal and local governments use official advertising to shape editorial lines and push partisan agendas.

The Special Rapporteurs on the Freedom of Expression from the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in a statement issued on 24 April 2018 called on Mexico to carry out a thorough reassessment of the legislation to be done in consultation with civil society to ensure compliance with international human rights standards. The Special Rapporteurs were concerned that the law continued to leave a wide margin of discretion to government officials to establish criteria for the allocation and use of government funds for advertising.