Violence against Journalists, 1997 Chiapas Massacre Remain Contentious Human Rights Issues

SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico, November 11, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Violence against Journalists, 1997 Chiapas Massacre Remain Contentious Human Rights Issues

The Mexican government's inability to protect human rights is synonymous with the prevalence of impunity. There are two open sores that Raul Plascencia Villanueva, the newly elected president of the Comision Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDH), is likely to address during his five-year term in office (see other story in this edition of SourceMex): the continuing violence against journalists and the still-unresolved massacre of 45 members a Tzotzil community in Chiapas in December 1997. Both issues came to the forefront in November with the murder of a crime reporter in Durango state and the decision by the high court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nacion, SCJN) to release several men accused of carrying out the Chiapas massacre. The court ruled that the accused had been imprisoned arbitrarily without benefit of due process.

Durango columnist becomes 12th journalist killed in 2009

The murder of Jose Vladimir Antuna Garcia, a crime columnist for the daily newspaper El Tiempo de Durango, was the latest example of the dangers facing reporters and editors who cover organized crime in Mexico, especially the drug cartels. International organizations have consistently rated Mexico as one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists (see SourceMex, 2006-12-06 and 2007-04-18).

"Mexico has the embarrassing distinction of being one of the most dangerous countries for journalists," said Allison Bethel McKenzie, deputy director of the Miami-based Inter American Press Association (IAPA). "It is shameful for a modern democracy to be in this position."

Statistics compiled by the international organization Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) indicates that Antuna is the 56th journalist killed in Mexico since 2000. Ten of those journalists have been killed in 2009, including photographer Jean Paul Ibarra Ramirez in Guerrero state (see SourceMex, 2009-02-25).

Antuna, who was also a criminal defense lawyer, was kidnapped in early November, and his body was later discovered on the street in front of a hospital in Durango city with signs of strangulation and several bullet wounds in his head and abdomen. Investigators found a note next to Antuna's body saying that he was killed for passing on information about the activities of drug cartels to the military.

Antuna had received multiple death threats, including an incident in April of this year where assailants fired bullets at his house in a drive-by shooting. Following the incident, he filed a complaint with the Durango state attorney general's office (Procuraduria General de Justicia del Estado de Durango, PGJED). But authorities concluded that Antuna's home was hit by stray bullets that were not aimed at the reporter. Because of this, he was not given special protection.

Several Mexican and international journalists organizations--including RSF, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the IAPA, the Centro Nacional de Comunicacion Social (CENCOS), and Article 19-a Global Campaign for Free Expression--criticized state and federal authorities for failing to take threats against reporters and editors more seriously.

"The Durango state prosecutor's office knew about death threats Vladimir Antuna received but did nothing to protect him," said RSF.

RSF said another regional reporter, Eliseo Barron of the daily newspaper El Tiempo in Torreon, Coahuila state, suffered the same fate as Antuna in May of this year. "The murder a few months ago of Eliseo Barron, probably by the same people, should have alerted the authorities," said RSF. "It is unacceptable. Durango state, a bastion of organized crime where there is complete impunity, has become a torment for those defending a free press and openness in news and information.

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Violence against Journalists, 1997 Chiapas Massacre Remain Contentious Human Rights Issues


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