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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

UN Human Rights Office condemns attacks by police against journalists in Acapulco, Mexico



The Mexican Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and various press advocates have called on the Mexican government to investigate reported attacks on journalists that took place Jan. 7 in Concepción, Acapulco in the state of Guerrero.

Photojournalist Bernardino Hernández and at least three other journalists were attacked by State agents while covering a confrontation in which security forces attempted to disarm community police in La Concepción, magazine Proceso reported. Eleven people were killed and 38 were detained.

Bernardino Hernández (Facebook)

State police beat Hernández with pistol grips and rifle butts, according to Proceso. Hernández told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that he temporarily lost consciousness during the attack.

Policemen also stole the memory cards from his camera and damaged his equipment, according to Proceso. These cards, the magazine reported, contained images of the “violent operation.”

Hernández also told CPJ that the attack happened after he photographed officers beating community police members, some of whom were unarmed. He also told the organization that he identified himself as a journalist, but the police said they didn’t care where he worked and “would make him disappear” if he kept photographing.

According to what the journalist told CPJ, he suffered a concussion, but no brain damage. He also reported bruised legs, torso and head. According to CPJ, the state health secretary of Guerrero said the state would pay for his medical expenses.

Hernández said that he fears for his safety because he also recognized some of the state police from past reporting assignments,” CPJ reported, adding that federal police were assigned to temporarily guard his home.

Hernández is a correspondent for AP and Cuartoscuro, and a collaborator with Proceso. Other journalists attacked included Jacob Morales of newspaper El Sur, Rubén Santiago of newspaper La Jornada Guerrero, Sergio Robles of new agency Quadratín and Jorge Torres of Univisión, according to Proceso.

According to Morales, the state police became hostile toward the reporters and tried to prevent documentation of the event once the confrontation between state agents and community police started, SDP Noticias reported.

Some of the reporters said they were hit and shoved, while others said police pointed their guns at them, according to SDP Noticias. The reporters told the police commander afterward, but he insulted and threatened them, the site added.

Following the incident, reporters in Acapulco and Chilpancingo marched in protest of the treatment of the journalists and demanded respect for journalism, according to newspaper El Universal.

The Mexican Office of the OHCHR said in a release that, along with the Commission on Human Rights of the State of Guerrero (CDHEG, for its initials in Spanish), it interviewed journalists who reported being attacked, as well as with authorities, people who were detained, and members of the community and civil society organizations.

The office quoted Jan Jarab, representative of the OHCHR in Mexico, as saying it was “undeniable that several journalists were attacked by elements of the police forces when covering the events and this must also be investigated.”

The OHCHR wrote that the office has evidence of the “existence of human rights violations committed by security forces during the operation, which are deeply worrying.” It reported receiving information about acts of torture, fabrication of evidence and searches without warrants, among other offenses.

“Additionally, the OHCHR considers the attacks against journalists on the part of security forces, specifically against Bernardino Hernández, who even had to be hospitalized given the seriousness of his injuries, to be deeply aggravating,” the release said, adding that the theft of equipment was also worrisome.

The office said the events “not only constituted an obstacle to freedom of expression and the right of citizens to obtain independent and plural information, but could also represent an attempt to hide or destroy evidence of serious human rights violations.” It called on the authorities to ensure that journalists could carry out work “without obstacles and with security.”

The CDHEG reported that it had opened an investigation into the alleged attacks on reporters and was assisting them.

The Government of the State of Guerrero responded said Hernández’ injuries “are not serious, as shown by medical reports” and that the event was being investigated.

The government said it was available to address the OHCHR’s concerns, as well as precautionary measures given by the office, “with the undeniable purpose that the events in La Concepción be investigated with strict adherence to the law and full respect for human rights.”

Press advocates, including CPJ and PEN México, condemned the attacks on journalists.

It is the job of the police to protect journalists, but we've seen too many cases in Mexico where police are the culprits in violence against journalists," said Alexandra Ellerbeck, CPJ's North America Program Coordinator, according to the release. "Authorities should investigate this attack and prosecute any officers responsible."

In a note regarding the “ominous beginning of 2018,” PEN México reported attacks on journalists in La Concepción and said they were evidence of impunity in the country.

Additionally, Mexico’s National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) called on authorities to guarantee the integrity and exercise of journalistic work.

 

Video of Hernández denouncing the attack before the state prosecutor.

 



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