Mexican authorities powerless as murders of journalists continue
Two more murders in August have brought the number of journalists killed in connection with their work in Mexico in 2019 to at least ten, confirming Mexico’s status as the world’s deadliest country for the media. In the absence of a strong reaction from the government, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) offers its recommendations on how to address this extreme level of violence and the almost total impunity.
The two latest victims are Nevith Condés Jaramillo and Jorge Celestino Ruíz Vázquez, whose names join a list that is growing inexorably. This year’s other confirmed victims are Rogelio Barragán Pérez, Norma Sarabia Garduza, Francisco Romero Díaz, Telésforo Santiago Enríquez, Jesús Eugenio Ramos Rodríguez, Rafael Murúa Manríquez, Omar Iván Camacho Mascareño and Santiago Barroso.
The figure of at least 10 journalists killed* was reached on 24 August, the day that Condés’s body was found. This is as many as the total number of journalists murdered in Mexico in 2018 and represents more than 30% of the number of journalists murdered worldwide so far in 2019. It is far more than this year’s provisional totals in Afghanistan and Syria, which is four in each case.
The latest murders are especially revealing about the ineffectiveness of both the federal and local authorities and their inability to rein in the vicious cycle of violence and impunity, especially when local elected officials seem to be directly involved.
The body of Condés, who was based in Tejupilco (in the central state of Mexico), was found dumped in nearby mountains on 24 August. He had been stabbed to death. He was the editor of the online newspaper El Observatorio del Sur, in which he often accused local officials of corruption. Colleagues and relatives told RSF he had been threatened twice in connection with his reporting, last November and again in June of this year.
The threats had been reported to the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists but it did not provided any protection measure to him. Condés’s colleagues also said there was “a great deal of tension” between him and Tejupilco mayor Anthony Domínguez Vargas.
Ruíz was murdered on 2 August in the town of Actopan (in the east coast state of Veracruz), where he was the correspondent of the newspaper El Gráfico de Xalapa. He had been threatened and attacked several times in 2018 for covering Actopan mayor José Paulino Domínguez Sánchez’s alleged involvement in corruption, including the embezzlement of public funds.
Ruíz has been given protection after filing a complaint with the local judicial authorities but the protection was withdrawn without explanation on orders from the Veracruz police. A few days before his murder, a messenger from the mayor went to El Gráfico de Xalapa’s headquarters and offered the newspaper money not to publish compromising information about the mayor’s activities. The newspaper refused.
“Those investigating the murders of Jorge Celestino Ruíz Vázquez and Nevith Condés Jaramillo, in which there are strong grounds for suspecting local elected officials, must act with the utmost impartiality, must prioritize the hypothesis that they were killed in connection with their journalism, and must identify those responsible as quickly as possible,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau.
“And President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s government must respond to the constant flood of attacks and murders by recognizing the gravity of the situation and by initiating the bold reforms it promised to carry out.”
More than 90% of the crimes of violence against journalists in Mexico go unpunished, fuelling the vicious cycle of violence and impunity. It was for this reason that, in March 2019, RSF asked the International Criminal Court to look into the impunity for murders and disappearances of journalists from 2006 to 2018, under President López Obrador’s two predecessors, Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto.
In response to the surge in the number of journalists murdered in 2019, RSF has provided the Mexican authorities, including the president’s office, with its recommendations on the measures that need to be taken.
RSF recommends that the Mexican authorities should:
1) Reinforce journalists’ safety:
- By improving the effectiveness and response time of the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, increasing its human and financial resources and enhancing its role in preventing risks, especially in the most dangerous states.
- By rapidly implementing the recommendations of the “Diagnosis of the Functioning of the Mechanism”, that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights gave to the Mexican authorities on 29 July and made public on August 26.
- By implementing a general policy for taking care of journalists and family members who are the victims of forced displacement.
2) Reinforce investigative resources
Given that the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) will soon be incorporated into a new Special Prosecutor’s Office for Human Rights, there is an urgent need to:
- Reinforce the FEADLE’s prerogatives and its human and financial resources.
- Quickly release the new guidelines for FEADLE investigations into crimes of violence against journalists and explain how the FEADLE’s decisions can be appealed.
- Encourage the FEADLE to make full use of its power under article 21 of the criminal code to transfer investigations into crimes against freedom of expression from the local to the federal level. RSF is of the view that this power should be used without delay in three of this year’s murder cases, those of Ruíz, Sarabia and Romero.
- Ensure that the new Approved Protocol for Investigating Crimes against Freedom of Expression, adopted in October 2018, is effectively applied.
- Ensure that the new Special Prosecutor’s Office for Human Rights – of which the FEADLE will be a section – quickly establishes close contacts with civil society organizations in order to discuss the new goals and challenges.
Mexico is ranked 144th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.
* Other murders of journalists, in particular, those of Samir Flores and Reynaldo López, are still being checked out. RSF has to establish whether there is a clear connection between their murders and their journalistic activities.