October 20, 2006

Violence against journalists in northern Mexico

By Luis Alonso Pérez

On April 2005, Alfredo Jimenez, a reporter from the Mexican northen state of So-nora, disappeared days after he published an investigation on organized crime in the region. More than a year has passed and still no sign of Alfredo.

Last week his family received a special award for his courageous work from the Inter American Press Association, during their sixty second assembly in Mexico City.

One of their topics of discussion was violence against Mexican journalists, particularly in the northern border region, considered as one of the most dangerous places to exercise journalism, with more than 21 reporters assassinated and three kidnapped during the last six years.

Diana Daniels, president of the Association said during the opening ceremony that we must not allow crimes against fellow journalists to go unpunished, governments and public opinion should raise their voices to demand that those who have killed journalists be brought to justice.

According to Carlos Lauria, America’s program director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Mexico, particularly the northern border states have become one of the most dangerous areas for journalists to do their work in Latin America.

“Basically what’s going on is that as war on the drug cartels intensifies, journalists who report on trafficking and organized crime are facing great dangers and this has caused violent attacks against journalists who engage on this kind of reporting and at the same time there is a wide spread of censorship.”

Lauria and the Committee to Protect Journalists have been doing a lot of research work in Mexico. They have traveled to several border towns, including Nuevo Laredo when gunmen stormed the offices of the daily newspaper El Mañana with bullets and hand grenades.

They also traveled to Tijuana a few months after the killing of Francisco Ortiz Franco in 2004, the editor of the weekly newspaper ZETA, famous for it’s in depth reporting on organized crime. Ortiz Franco was shot point blank by two hit men in front of his two kids.

Jorge Mendoza is a young reporter from ZETA. His real name has been changed in this story for his safety.

Jorge has been covering the organized crime beat for a year now and is beginning to understand what fellow journalists have gone through and how their lives are endangered when they start publishing details of the organized crime activities.

“When you don’t stop publishing there are two options or they pressure you to quit or they kill you.”

The reporter was told recently that a fellow journalist was followed by a suspicious vehicle, which led to a high speed chase.

“He told me he was in shock. He had his camera, but it’s not a gun, so his only defense was his car.”

Fortunately he got away, but more than 21 journalists have been murdered and three have disappeared in the last six years.

Violence has made newspaper reporters cut down on their investigating of organized crime activities and in some cases stopped publishing the reporters name in order to ensure their safety.

For Victor Clark, a long time human rights advocate and investigator based in Tijuana this is a direct attack to their human rights.

“Of course this is an attack to their freedom of expression, to their right to live and it cuts down on their freedom. Some censor themselves and don’t talk about it, but some do it very courageously.”

This might seem like a misfortune, but for Jorge Mendoza and other Mexican journalists covering organized crime, not having his byline published or even cutting down on their investigating is just a way to survive.

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