Three defenders and a journalist killed in early 2020 in Mexico


Two environmental defenders killed in early 2020

Environmental defender Homero Gómez González was reported missing on 13th January 2020 and his body was found on 29th January 2020, two weeks after his disappearance. He was a former logger who became one of Mexico's most prominent defenders of the monarch butterfly, whose natural habitat has been threatened by logging in the region. Over two hundred people joined community-organised searches when the activist went missing. Government officials have also said Homero’s family was subjected to extortion by people demanding a ransom for his release. The defender was finally found in a well in El Soldado de Ocampo, Michoacán, near the El Rosario butterfly sanctuary he had spent decades working to preserve. According to news reports, he had previously received threats from organised crime groups because of his activism.

Days later, Raul Hernandez Romero, a guide at the sanctuary, was found dead on 1st February 2020. He had been reported missing some days earlier by his family. According to news reports, police found his body with multiple bruises and a knife wound to his head.

Women’s rights defender’s killing sparks protests

On 19th January 2020, artist and women’s rights activist Isabel Cabanillas was shot and killed in Ciudad Juárez. According to news reports, she was reported missing the day before and was found dead with gunshot wounds on a sidewalk next to a bicycle. While an investigation is ongoing, the National Women’s Institute (Inmujeres) published a statement saying that this femicide “represents an attack against activism, which for months has faced hostility and assaults by those trying to silence women’s rights to protest to demand a life free of violence”. Isabel worked on gender justice with network Mesa de Mujeres and was a member of feminist collective Hijas de su Maquilera Madre. Her killing sparked new protests against gender-based violence in Mexico.

Peaceful Assembly

Labour protests

Better working conditions and the recognition of indigenous education were among the demands in a general strike organised by teachers in Oaxaca in early January 2020. On 8th January 2020, teachers’ union Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE) called for a 72-hour strike during which union members occupied government offices, set up blockades on major highways and reportedly hijacked buses and trucks to block the road to the Oaxaca airport.

In December 2019, employees of Mexico City’s Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (Institute of Fine Arts - INBAL) campaigned to demand back pay of delayed wages and recognition of labour rights. According to media reports, on 18th December 2019, workers staged a silent protest, entering an auditorium where an event was taking place and holding signs with messages such as, “Exhibitions are always on time, why aren’t our payments?”. They were met by a supportive crowd who chanted, “contrato digno” in solidarity with the workers. “It was important to us that our protest wasn’t based on violence or vandalism,” said one of the protesters. On 23rd December 2019, workers in the cultural sector blocked at least two entrances to the National Palace to demand payment of delayed wages.

Zapata painting ignites protests and counter-protests

A provocative portrait of Emiliano Zapata generated controversy and ignited protests outside the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, where demonstrators urged the museum to remove the painting. On 10th December 2019, about 200 people, including Zapata’s grandson, protested inside the museum and chanted “burn it, burn it”, saying that the painting, which shows the Mexican revolutionary naked and in high heels, is offensive. Counter-protesters, including LGBTI rights organisations, also gathered in December 2019 in defence of the painting and against homophobia. The museum decided to retain the painting in the exhibition together with a disclaimer written by Zapata’s family.

Migrants protest police abuse and immigration policy

Migrants in Tijuana staged protests in December 2019 to draw attention to police abuse, living conditions and immigration policy. On 23rd December 2019, about 30 people marched from a migrant shelter to Tijuana’s City Hall to protest the abuse by police of migrants staying near the border. They denounced the mistreatment of migrants who are waiting to file their U.S. asylum claims. On 30th December 2019, migrants gathered near the Tijuana office of the National Commission of Human Rights to ask for better temporary living conditions and to protest the recent change to immigration policy that sends asylum seekersto Guatemala.

Demonstrations against gender-based violence

On 11th January 2020, Mexico City’s main plaza was filled with hundreds of red-painted women’s shoes to protest the country’s widespread problem of gender-based violence. Each shoe, according to organisers, represented a girl or woman who has disappeared or been murdered in recent years. As previously reported by the Monitor, in the second half of 2019, Mexico witnessed a massive wave of demonstrations which drew thousands of people to Mexico City and other cities to protest against gender-based violence and the government’s widespread failure to protect women and girls. The killing of women’s rights activist Isabel Cabanillas in January 2020 ignited new protests.


Michoacán reporter killed

On 9th January 2020, authorities reported that the body of a Michoacán radio station host who went missing in November 2019 was found on the side of a highway. Fidel Ávila Gómez, of the La Ke Buena station, was reportedly kidnapped by a group of armed men as he travelled to an event in Altamirano. Because of rising crime and violence in the state, the Michoacán Reporters Association (Amipac) called on the government to do more to protect journalists working in the region.

Attacks against journalists

On 12th December 2019, a journalist was thrown to the ground and beaten by members of the ministerial police in Ciudad del Carmen while attempting to report on a crime scene. Luis Arturo Gallegos Alejandro, a correspondent with Telesur Campeche, says officers attacked and arbitrarily detained him for two hours after they saw him using his phone to video them arresting a suspect. According to the reporter, he was injured during the attack but was denied medical assistance.

Two reporters claimed they were attacked, harassed and detained by police officers in Cimalhuacán while covering a fatal road accident on 9th January 2020. David Deolarte, of La Prensa, and Leonardo Sanchez Madrid, of Metro newspaper, say that they were taking pictures of the scene when officers began harassing them. A short video shows someone knocking the camera out of one of the reporter’s hands. Sanchez told Article 19 that he had identified himself to the police as a journalist but that did not stop officers from taking his equipment and arresting him for allegedly “taking photographs”. He was released two hours later but not before being verbally and physically assaulted.

Journalists threatened

A reporter in Ciudad Obregon informed CSO Article 19 that he had received death threats because of his recent investigative work. Marco Antonio Duarte Vargas, of Ciudad Obregon Sin Censura, said men linked to the Secretary of Social Development in the Mayor’s office in Cajeme made threatening remarks to him on multiple occasions as part of an intimidation campaign to silence him from reporting on local politicians and crime. On 28th December 2019, the harassment escalated with people allegedly connected to a local official killing his dog. Duarte previously made complaints about these threats to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Journalist Dolia Estevez reported that a diplomat tried to retaliate against her because of a recent investigative report that exposed the official’s partisan behaviour in court hearings. Estevez claims that she received information from another reporter,Julio Sánchez-Pasos, that the Consul in Tucson Arizona asked him to gather personal information to conduct a smear campaign against her as retribution for her reporting. Those allegations were turned over to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs for investigation.

Article 19 is calling on the federal mechanism to step up its protection for Emir Olivares, a journalist enrolled in the programme who received multiple death threats because of his work covering drug and crime stories. On 6th December 2019, Olivares says he confronted two men who had illegally entered his home and were searching his belongings. After the men fled, he received threatening phone calls that referenced his investigative work. The callers reportedly claimed to have been offered a million pesos to kill the journalist. Olivares has been enrolled in the protection programme since 2017.

On 16th January 2020, a journalist received a threatening letter at his house that referenced his reporting. Héctor de Mauleón told Article 19 that he believes a handwritten note that said, in part, “We know where you hide,” was placed near the door of his house to intimidate him. The note mentions the name of a singer that de Mauleón had reported on in 2017. De Mauleón has received multiple threats going back to 2005, but said this is the first time he had received such threats at his house. CSOs Article 19 and PEN International are calling on the government to protect him.