Mexico: Freedom of expression still under attack as six journalists killed

Six journalists have been killed in less than a month in Mexico, highlighting the authorities’ ongoing failure to uphold freedom of expression by protecting media workers from threats and violence for carrying out their work. On Friday, the mutilated body of experienced crime reporter Marco Antonio Ávila García, aged 39, was found stuffed in a garbage bag on a roadside in the north-western state of Sonora. The previous day he had been abducted from a car wash in Ciudad Obregón, where he lived and worked for two newspapers. Ávila’s death came just days after a former journalist was found dead in the boot of a car in the central Mexican city of Cuernavaca, and two weeks after the mutilated bodies of three journalists were discovered in the eastern state of Veracruz. A correspondent for the weekly news magazine Proceso was also discovered murdered at her home in Xalapa, Veracruz on 28 April.  “This new wave of killings of media workers should serve as a wake-up call to the Mexican authorities, who must do more to protect journalists who are at risk for carrying out their work,” said Rupert Knox, Amnesty International’s Mexico researcher. “The authorities rarely identify or bring to justice those responsible for attacks on journalists, creating a climate a fear and vulnerability amongst those still brave enough to continue their work. It is vital that full and impartial investigations are carried out immediately, including making use of new federal investigative powers, into each of these cases, to ensure the killers are brought to justice.”According to a spokesman for the Sonora state Prosecutor, police found a message signed by an organized crime cartel next to Marco Ávila’s body, but its content has not been made public. On 13 May, just days before Marco Ávila’s abduction and death, the body of former journalist René Orta Salgado was found strangled and stuffed in the boot of his car in Cuernavaca, south of Mexico City. Salgado had left the newspaper El Sol in January. On 3 May, police found the bodies of three photographers and one newspaper worker in Boca del Río in the eastern Gulf state of Veracruz. The three photographers – Guillermo Luna, Gabriel Huge and Esteben Rodríguez – had all specialized in coverage of police and organized crime. Their names were all on a blacklist circulated by an organized criminal group last year. Irasema Becerra, an administrative worker at a newspaper who was in a relationship with Luna, was also found dead. Several days earlier, on 28 April, Proceso magazine correspondent Regina Martínez was killed in the state capital Xalapa. She had also investigated criminal networks and political corruption.The latest killings are the continuation of an ongoing wave of violence against journalists across Mexico in the context of the government’s fight against organized criminal groups which has resulted in more than 50,000 killings in the last five years. According to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, 81 journalists have been killed in the country since 2000, with a further 14 disappeared. Perpetrators have rarely been brought to justice.The serious risk to journalists’ lives has led some media organizations to stop covering organized crime altogether – among them is a newspaper in the northern border city of Nuevo Laredo, which announced its decision to self-censor after its offices were sprayed with bullets earlier this month. On 14 May, a group of four experts on freedom of expression from the UN and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a statement urging Mexican authorities to act swiftly to end the ongoing threat to journalists and human rights defenders. Amnesty International has also repeatedly urged Mexican authorities to do more to ensure that freedom of expression is protected, including by implementing a new Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which was approved by Mexico’s federal Parliament in March but has yet to be signed by the President. Reforms to the Constitution allowing federal investigation of crimes against journalists have also yet to be put into effect.    “Mexican state and federal authorities must redouble their efforts to protect journalists and human rights defenders and stop the targeted killings, which present a grave threat to freedom of expression,” said Knox. “The new law will not be worth the paper it’s printed on unless it’s accompanied by a serious and concerted effort on the ground to protect Mexico’s media organizations and human rights workers who are increasingly under attack.”