October 15, 2004

Libres por la palabra: National protest against crimes to journalists in Mexico

By Luis Alonso Pérez

Francisco Ortiz Franco, editor of the weekly newspaper ZETA, was assassinated on June 22 in the city of Tijuana, when he was getting into his car with his 10 and 8 year old children.

A hooded man –a supposed hit man for the mafia– got out of the passenger side of a car, shot him five times and fled from the scene.

The story quickly appeared on national news and was on the cover of major newspapers.

Last Monday a national nationwide protest took place in Mexico City and the main cities around the country, in rejection to Francisco Ortiz Franco’s homicide and three other Mexican journalists’ murders during the last seven months.

National Protest

The protest in Mexico City began at 11 am, with a march that started in the Revolution Monument and ended in the national senate building, where the protestors delivered a complaint letter and a ten point declaration that included accusations and demands to authorities, but at the same time included a pledge to improve journalism in Mexico.

The document had the title “Declaration against violence to journalists and for the full freedom of expression in Mexico.” It was written by members of the Center for Journalism and Public Ethic discussion forum, and signed by 300 communicators from 25 states, with the support from professionals from eight countries.

The declaration included direct demands to the authorities to allow full freedom of expression and heavy punishments against journalist aggressors. It demanded fair salaries, the right to professional secrecy and a change in legislation, so that crimes against reporters belong to federal instead of local jurisdiction.

The most important demand stated was that authorities guarantee security in the journalistic profession, due to the threats that restrict the freedom of expression in Mexico. Among the most important are political censorship and organized crime, particularly in the northern States, where auto censorship has become the only way of guaranteeing the reporter’s safety.

At the same time, the document contains a pledge from journalists to assume an ethical obligation to maintain respect and the rights of the people involved in the stories, without sacrificing informative quality, and rejecting the abuse of power that some dishonest communicators take advantage of to satisfy their own personal needs.

The document was addressed to Mexican legislators, governors and particularly to President Vicente Fox.

Protest in Baja California

At the same time that the protest took place in the country’s capital, a group of reporters, cameramen, and photographers from Baja California gathered in the civic center of the city of Mexicali –the State capital– to protest against the violence towards journalists and for the freedom of speech in the state.

Communicators from El Mexicano, La Cronica, La Voz de la Frontera, TV Azteca, Univision, among others, carried signs with the phrase “Ni uno mas” (not one more) as well as a black ribbon as a sign of grief.

In this event a brief speech was made that stated their complaints and demanded the investigation of the crimes against their colleagues.

At the end, a minute of silence was held to honor the colleagues who have died.

Crimes to journalists

Eleven journalists have been murdered in Mexico during the last four years; nine of them have been committed in the border states of Tamaulipas, Chihuahua and Baja California; four of them during the last seven months.

The most recent was Leodegario Aguilera Lucas, editor of the magazine Mundo Politico. His body was found dead on September 8 after many days of being kidnapped in the city of Acapulco, Guerrero.

On August 31, columnist and high school teacher Francisco Arratia Saldierna was found agonizing outside a hospital in the city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas after being kidnapped.

His body showed clear signs of torture, especially in the hands because all of his fingers where fractured. He was taken into the hospital but died shortly.

It’s believed that his death was part of a vengeance because of the severe critics to politicians and members of the organized crime, in his column “Portavoz”.

Without a doubt the crime with the largest repercussion in the national scene, was the murder of the editor of the weekly newspaper ZETA Francisco Ortiz Franco, on June 22 in Tijuana.

This case has been analyzed by the Interamerican Press Society and by the Committee for Protection of Journalists, who sent two of their members to Tijuana to collect information and make a public statement about the case.

The first journalist murdered this year was Roberto Mora, editorial director of the newspaper El Mañana of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. He was stabbed when he got out of his car on March 19.

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