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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Journalists around the world send letter to the Mexican president asking for protection for their colleagues



The murder of photojournalist Rubén Espinosa on 31 July in Mexico City was without a doubt a turning point in matters of security for Mexican journalists. For this reason, his colleagues are demanding that the crime does not go unpunished and that the Mexican state provide protection for journalists.

With this goal in mind, more than 500 journalists, writers, artists and defenders of freedom of expression from around the world sent an open letter to the president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, in which they urge the “immediate and effective” clarification of the murder of Rubén Espinosa and all journalists killed in the country, and that these investigations look at public officials who may have been involved.

They also demanded an immediate revision of the mechanism of protection for journalists along with a commitment to guarantee freedom of expression in the country.

Press conference presenting the letter to President Enrique Peña Nieto. Photo courtesy of the Cencos Twitter account.

This letter, which was the initiative of journalists in Latin America and had the support of PEN and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), was presented by Guillermo Osorno, Marcela Turati, Francisco Goldman and Norma Trujill at a press conference on the morning of Monday, August 17.

The signatories of the letter said: “Since 2000, dozens of journalists have been killed in Mexico, and approximately 20 more remain disappeared. The great majority of these crimes have never been prosecuted.”

Nevertheless, it was the murder of Espinosa that generated great concern and international outrage for several reasons.

One is that Espinosa was killed in Mexico City where he had arrived after fleeing the state of Veracruz out of fear for his life. The city had been considered, up to that moment, “one of the last safe places in the country for reporters to work,” the letter said. “There would now seem to be no safe haven for the profession.”

It is also alarming that the journalist had left the state of Veracruz because of the many threats he had received. Veracruz is considered one of the most dangerous states for journalists and on many occasions, governor Javier Duarte has been accused of not only attacking journalists, but also failing to protect them.

In fact, the letter says that since the governor took office in 2010, “journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed in unprecedented numbers: 14 have been murdered in atrocious fashion, and three have disappeared in the same time period.” According to the letter, in all cases the professional work of the victims has been dismissed as a possible line of judicial investigation. The communication adds that, to date, there are 37 journalists who have had to leave their homes to seek refuge in Mexico City.

“Mexico has historically had a flaw and that is that the murders of journalists are not taken seriously, are not thoroughly investigated and even sometimes do not have a big impact in their own national press,” said Rosental Alves, director and founder of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, who is one of the signatories of the letter. "The situation is very serious not only for the number of victims, but also for the almost total impunity for crimes against journalists. Impunity generates a kind of stimulus so that the crimes are repeated with such frequency.”

In this vein, the letter presents a point of concern taken from the National Commission of Human Rights in the country that says that 89 percent of journalist murders remain unsolved.

It is in this scenario, as Alves recalls, that self-censorship becomes the only method of survival of journalists and media in some Mexican states.

“We do not defend the reporters simply out of solidarity between colleagues. The murder of a journalist for reasons related to their work, information or opinions is a crime against all of society and therefore requires special attention,” he added.

Not surprisingly, the letter begins by stating that “an attempt on the life of a journalist is an attack on society’s very right to be informed.”

The editorial board of The New York Times also joined the journalists and said that putting an end to these aggressions “requires forceful action” by President Peña Nieto. For the board, both the president and local officials are obliged to "take concrete steps" to protect journalists who risk their lives doing their job. They are also required to investigate and prosecute past crimes.

On August 18, the Secretariat of the Interior (Segob by its acronym in Spanish) released a statement (republished by Animal Politico) in response to the letter, reasserting the government’s dedication to freedom of expression and the mechanism that protects journalists and human rights defenders.

“The Government of the Republic strongly condemns the aggressions and attacks committed against journalists and defenders of human rights and collaborates with the relevant authorities in investigating them,” according to the statement, which was signed by Undersecretary of Human Rights Roberto Campa Cifrián.

It added that authorities have not discounted any line of investigation.

Although Mexico implemented a mechanism to protect journalists and human rights defenders in 2012, critics have pointed out the little effectiveness it has had to protect the life of people that need it.

As reported by the Knight Center, organizations such as Article 19 Mexico office have chosen to stop sending cases to the mechanism and offer, instead, small methods to protect threatened journalists.

Read the full letter to the president here.



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