Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Silencing Criticism in Mexico

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Silencing Criticism in Mexico

Article excerpt

In the context of the widespread violence associated with organised crime in Mexico, human rights defenders and journalists often become specific targets. Since the year 2000, at least 125 journalists have been killed in Mexico and another 21 have gone missing. Meanwhile, from December 2012 to July 2017 at least 106 human rights defenders have been killed and 81 disappeared.1 And, although data is hard to obtain, 276 attacks against the press have been reported in 2017, 23% more than in 2016.2

Denouncing human rights violations, publicising the corruption of local authorities or simply providing information on what is happening in certain areas of the country are sufficient grounds for individuals to be threatened, assaulted, assassinated or disappeared. With the authorities unwilling or unable to crack down on criminal gangs and turning a blind eye to agressions committed by government officials, it falls to journalists and human rights defenders to expose murders, disappearances or other criminal acts. To prevent them from doing this, criminal groups force some journalists to collaborate with them or face being victims of aggression themselves. In popular parlance, the offer is 'silver or lead'.

This context is often aggravated by the open hostility of different authorities towards journalists and human rights defenders, which reduces or eliminates the possibility of seeking protection or support. In addition, impunity is almost absolute. There were only three convictions for attacks on journalists between 2010 and 2016 - just 0.15% of all cases investigated by the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression.

The displacement of defenders and journalists

Many journalists and human rights defenders opt for silence, abandoning their human rights work, while others - when the risk becomes unbearable - are forced to move to other parts of the country or to other countries. For those who decide to seek refuge in other countries, however, there are additional barriers to protection. Journalist Martín Méndez Pineda, for example, travelled to El Paso, Texas, and applied for asylum in the United States but after spending four months in a detention centre - which he described as "hell" - during which he was twice denied release on parole, he decided to return to Mexico even though he was aware of the danger to which he was returning.

Sometimes the authorities themselves use relocation as a way to offer protection to an individual at risk. The Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, created in 2012 by the Mexican government and which is currently protecting 538 people (342 human rights defenders and 196 journalists), includes among the protection measures available to it the temporary relocation of the person who has been threatened or attacked. …

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