Reporters in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, confront police aggression, lack information access
To avoid police aggression, reporters in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, work in groups when covering seizures, arrests and any other crime in this city on the U.S-Mexico border, now considered the second most violent in the world after spending three years in first place. “While one person speaks with officials, others are ready with their cameras to make public any incidents of aggression," explained Alfredo Quijano, editor of the local newspaper Norte, in an interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.
This is exactly what happened recently to Raymundo Ruiz, photographer for the magazine Proceso, when he was beaten while attempting to take photographs during a police operation. “In the past, they had only insulted me, but this time they actually hit me," said the photographer. After filing a complaint with the federal prosecutor, Ruiz said that he still feels angry and powerless, and that his lip injury remains.
“In a dispute, the journalists end up losing because they aren't armed, and they end up in jail," said Quijano. According to the Juárez Journalists Network and the newspaper Norte, in February alone, five journalists were taken to the municipal jail in similar incidents and 13 have already been attacked this year.
In recent months, the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas blog has reported that police agents have interfered with journalists' work by beating, arresting, and even threatening to kill them. Quijano estimates that, to date, there are 10 complaints from journalists against the police in the Attorney General's Office, but none have received attention.
In a recent meeting of local media editors, the controversial police chief Julián Leyzaola said that he would not rule out the possibility that corrupt police would deliberately provoke the incidents with journalists, to affect the municipal police's image, reported Quijano. Leyzaola said that he planned to continue firing corrupt police officers in the near future and that he was committed to respecting journalists' work. "For now, there haven't been any more incidents, so it seems that he did give them strict orders," added the journalist.
Since the Mexican government declared war on drug trafficking in 2006, the relation between reporters and security forces in Juárez has been tense, and some publications like Norte have even decided to self-censor after their journalists received death threats.
In the face of impunity, the Juárez press maintains an archive with photos of police without masks in order to identify them if necessary, explained Quijano. The police resent the tactic so much that they also take photographs and videos of the reporters and photographers, added the journalist, who has covered security topics in the city for more than 20 years.
The police aggression against the press has been happening as frequently as the arbitrary arrests of civilians, reported the newspaper Diario de Juárez. Quijano, however, denies that the aggression against journalists has increased since an ex-soldier took over as head of local public security. In the past, Leyzaola was able to lessen violence and insecurity in Tijuana, but his critics accuse him of human rights violations, according to CNN México.
Between 2009 and 2011, the military and the federal police were in charge of protecting the streets of Ciudad Juárez. “It seems like they are taking turns. Whichever authority is in charge of local security is the one committing the violations," said Quijano. Sixteen journalists have been killed in this city since 2001 and another eight journalists have sought asylum abroad, reported the organization Artículo 19.
The local press has also criticized the police for blocking access to information. For example, Juárez Public Security officials "almost never give interviews to the press or let them interview those arrested," said Ruiz. The Public Security press secretary decides at his discretion whether he wants to respond to requests for information, explained Quijano.
The journalists in this Mexican border city also confront confusing and manipulated crime statistics. According to the data available, killings in Ciudad Juárez have decreased, but other crimes, like auto theft, extortion and house raids, have increased. “There is a political dispute among the three levels of government as to who is responsible for this decrease. The federal, state and local governments all take credit for the statistics which show that crime rates have dropped," said Quijano.
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