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Police arrest two journalists in Mexico allegedly linked to organized crime

Two reporters were arrested and accused of participating in organized crime in the central Mexican state of Aguascalientes. These cases are the most recent accusations against journalists of having connections to drug traffickers in the state over the last two years.

In total, four journalists have been accused of "organized crime with intent" in the state, reported the newspaper El Sol del Centro.

The most recent case happened on Nov. 11, when a journalist was arrested in Aguascalientes and sent to a prison 1,300 kilometers away in Cuidad Juárez, on the Texas-Mexico border, reported Diario de Juárez. Esteban Bonilla, crime reporter and photographer for the publication Tribuna Libre and the newspaper Página 24, was arrested as he drove past the police department on his way to work, reported the website Terra.

State authorities reported that they had discovered links between several journalists and the La Oficina criminal organization, according to El Heraldo. Authorities said that the evidence against Bonilla included a phone call the reporter received from a suspected kidnapper while in police custody.

Days before, on Nov. 8, Alejandro González Muñoz, editor of the crime and politics publication El Circo, was arrested outside his home in Aguascalientes and taken to a prison in Cuidad Juárez, reported the newspaper Milenio. Authorities said that four suspected criminals identified the journalist as a member of the La Oficina cartel but his detention could have been a reprisal for his critical articles against the Attorney General, according to the newspapers Milenio and La Jornada de Aguascalientes. The website El Circo has not been updated since the journalist's arrest.

In October 2011, police in Aguascalientes arrested a photographer for Tribuna Libre, Carlos Alberto Limón Díaz, who had worked as a preventative police officer, according to the news agency Notimex. That same month, authorities aprehended Julio Mocada, a deliveryman for El Circo, according to El Heraldo.

At this point, no journalistic organization in Mexico is responsible for the reporters' defense or is monitoring the judicial proceedings against them. However, the organization Article 19 has called for an exhaustive investigation that includes hard evidence and not just hearsay. "If the reporters end up innocent, we want them to publicize it in the same way as they have their detention," demanded Juan Carlos Romero of Article 19.

The secretary of government in the state of Aguascalientes called the arrests an attack on freedom of expression, according to La Jornada de Aguascalientes.

The arrests show another side to the complicated task of covering organized crime. Without knowing the details of the cases in Aguascalientes, Marcela Turati, reporter for the magazine Proceso and founder of the organization Periodistas de a Pie, Journalists on Foot, said that in Mexico a journalist can get trapped in organized crime networks voluntarily or not.

Turati highlighted low salaries for journalists in Mexico and contact with corrupt police and officials as risk factors for reporters.

"Many times that is a risk factor because officials are involved in drug trafficking," she said.

These arrests are the first cases of drug traffickers and journalists making strange bedfellows. In Veracruz, authorities claimed that the killings of some journalists were due to their connections to organized crime. "Often the authorities will discredit killed or disappeared journalists who cannot defend themselves," explained Romero. At this time, state authorities have presented little hard evidence to the fact.

Beyond these arrests, several journalistic organizations noted that attacks on the press are rare in Aguascalientes.

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