Palabras a Prueba de Balas campaign raises awareness about dangers facing journalists

On 16th July 2018, ten prominent civil society organisations wrote a letter to the Open Government Partnership (OGP) to pressure the Mexican government to do more to protect “safe and open spaces for civic society”. Citing the inadequate response from the administration to the allegations of government spying on journalists, activists and healthcare workers, the coalition called on the OGP to intervene and “uphold the values and principles expressed in the Open Government Declaration”. The letter says, in part:

“The surveillance attacks against journalists, civil society leaders and human rights advocates are perverse, silent and sophisticated actions by the Mexican government to control, threaten and close citizen participation.” 

Started in 2011, the OGP is designed to bring “together government reformers and civil society leaders to create action plans that make governments more inclusive, responsive and accountable”.

Peaceful Assembly

On 14th August 2018, members of Movimiento Nacional en Defensa de la Tierra (National Movement in Defense of the Earth) held a demonstration to pressure President-Elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador to stop the building of a large airport near their community (in the Zona Federal del Lago de Texcoco (a former lake bed). For years, residents of San Salvador Atenco have fought against the new airport, opposing the land seizures and fearing that its construction will harm the environment. Protesters delivered a letter to the president-elect’s office demanding the airport not be built. Hundreds of people participated in a related protest on 23rd August in Mexico City, with people marching and carrying signs that said, “the earth is not for sale!” The airport, according to media reports, is about one-third completed. Lopez Obrador, who had campaigned on ending the project, now appears open to its completion.

Expression

Killing of journalists

On 24th July 2018, Ruben Pat Cauich, the founder of Semanario Playa News, an online news source popular in Quintana Roo state, was shot and killed outside a bar in Playa del Carmen. Pat Cauich, who had been enrolled in the Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, the government’s program to help protect journalists, often reported on police corruption and told colleagues that he feared for his life. He was the second journalist from Semanario Playa killed in July and at least the seventh journalist killed this year in Mexico. In June 2017, police officers detained and beat him after he published a story about a banner hung by a drug cartel accusing the police of working with a rival cartel. 

The recent deaths of two journalists are being investigated, but the motives behind the killings remain unclear. On 23rd July 2018, Luis Perez Garcia, an 80-year-old journalist who ran a magazine called Encuesta Hoy, was reportedly beaten to death before his assailants set his home on fire. The Federación de Asociaciones de Periodistas de México (Federation of Associations of Mexican Journalists) is calling on the government to protect Perez Garcia’s family. On 29th August 2018, Javier Enrique Rodríguez Valladares, a cameraman who worked for Canal 10, a local television station, was shot and killed in Cancun while attempting to sell a car. "The killing of Javier Enrique Rodríguez Valladares perpetuates a series of deadly attacks on journalists this year in Quintana Roo, a state that until recently was not one of the most dangerous places for journalists in Mexico", said Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ's Mexico representative. He is the third journalist to be killed in the area since June.

Attacks on journalists persist in Mexico

On 18th July 2018, two reporters with El Voceador were attacked while attempting to cover a National Action Party (PAN) demonstration outside of a municipal building in Ciudad del Carmen. Marycarmen Diaz and Fabian Guerrero were circling the demonstration in their vehicle when they say Mayor Pablo Gutiérrez Lazarus saw them and directed people to attack them. The journalists told Article 19 that people threw stones and other items at their vehicle, causing damage but no injuries. The mayor reportedly directed another attack against the same journalists in 2016.

On 23rd July 2018, a journalist with SinPelos.mx received threatening messages via social media reportedly from a government official because of his investigative work related to local politicians. Victor Badillo shared the messages with Article 19, in which a person who is believed to be a Secretary of the Escobedo City Council makes threats to harm him and his family, who have been repeatedly harassed since 2017.

On 6th August 2018, four members of the media were attacked and robbed while covering a crime scene in Playa de Carmen after police reportedly vacated the scene after chaos ensued. Residents who blamed the police for the death a local bricklayer became angry and aggressive when police officers failed to address their grievances. According to Article 19, residents started attacking the police who then quickly fled the scene, leaving other residents and members of the press to fend for themselves. Eduardo Torres and Pedro Juárez of Integra Noticias and Felipe Reséndiz and Gerardo Oliva of Interactivo TV say they were violently attacked by the residents and had their cell phones stolen. A video taken after the incident shows Juarez’s multiple stab wounds.

On 11th August 2018, police officers in León, Guanajuato state assaulted a journalist as he attempted to document a possible crime scene. In a short video, police officers are seen approaching Guillermo Villegas who identifies himself as a member of the press. The video shows officers forcefully moving him away from the scene and telling him to stop recording. Later, one of the officers reportedly pushed the reporter down while another held a gun to his head. He shared pictures of his injuries with Article 19. “This should not happen, neither to journalists, nor to citizens, nor to anyone. I speak because I do not want this to go unpunished”, he said.

In a video posted online, a reporter with Univisión Noticias describes how bodyguards of First Lady Angélica Rivera accosted him and tried to delete photographs he took of the First Lady. While vacationing in Paris, Francisco Cobos says he saw the president’s wife and members of her family sitting at an outdoor café and began taking pictures. Within a few moments, two men approached Cobos and told him that he needed to stop. When he refused, Cobos said the men tried to grab his camera and threatened to have him arrested. The two men were later identified as members of the presidential general staff. Article 19 said about the incident:

"Even if the function of the Presidential General Staff is to guarantee the security of the President and his family, this task does not empower them to hinder or suppress the exercise of the freedom to investigate and disseminate information."

A reporter for Asi Lo Dice Puebla says he and his family received multiple threatening calls and text messages related to an investigation he conducted of a local elected official. Adolfo Estrada told Article 19 that he received messages from a phone linked to Juan Valadez Tejada, the former Secretary of the Arbitration Court of Puebla, who is the subject of a recent investigation challenging his official credentials. The caller reportedly threatened members of Estrada’s family and said he would discredit the reporter by releasing damaging information about him. Estrada said he contacted authorities to seek protection in case he or his family are attacked.

In August 2018, two journalists with Al Portador were repeatedly threatened by a prominent official who is the subject of an investigative report that exposed possible corruption related to the construction of a car factory in Puebla. According to Article 19, Yasmin Flores began receiving threatening messages from Pablo Rodriguez Regordosa, a former Secretary of Competitiveness, Labor and Economic Development in Moreno Valle, after she refused to apologise or retract a story she wrote connecting him to the corruption with the car factory deal. On 17th August, Rodriguez Regordosa waited outside of Flores’ place or work and attacked her when she refused to give him an apology. Soon after, Flores and Alejandro Mondragon began receiving threatening calls and texts from Rodriguez Regordosa and his associates.

A reporter for Acontecer Cachanilla says he had his nose broken and his work equipment damaged and stolen while attempting to cover a meeting of government employees in Baja California. Wilfrido Daniel Figueroa Garcia told Article 19 that members of the Union Bureaucrats of Baja California violently attacked him outside the group’s headquarters. In addition to having his camera and phone damaged, he was knocked down during the attack and received multiple injuries.

Palabras a Prueba de Balas (Bulletproof Words) is Article 19’s campaign to raise awareness about the troubling number of attacks against members of the press in Mexico. As part of the campaign, La Doblevida, a design firm, created two special bulletproof vests that have the names and news clippings about reporters who have been murdered across the country. Manuel Camacho, the project’s coordinator, said that the vests are "to show that information can protect us all" and to defend the idea that reporters should not have to wear bulletproof vests.