Mexico: reporter’s murder revives debate about effectiveness of protection
Last week’s murder of a journalist in the southwestern state of Guerrero raises many questions about the protection of media personnel in Mexico. The journalist, Cecilio Pineda Birto, had been given official protection but it was withdrawn in October for reasons that Reporters Without Borders (RSF) regards as unacceptable.
Aged 39, Cecilio Pineda Birto was gunned down in cold blood on 2 March in Ciudad Altamirano, in Guerrero’s Tierra Caliente region. The editor of La Voz de la Tierra Caliente, a local newspaper, and a crime reporter for the El Universal and El Debate dailies, he was known for being outspoken and criticizing local corruption, and had been the target of threats and murder attempts in recent years.
After escaping at attack in 2015, Pineda filed a complaint with the Guerrero state prosecutor’s office. His case was passed to the Federal Mechanism for Protecting Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which advised him to move to a new location to avoid further danger. Pineda rejected the proposal, mainly on health grounds.
Following an initial risk evaluation, the Federal Mechanism again suggested in January 2016 that he should leave his hometown and go to a refuge. Yet again, Pineda could not bring himself to take this step, so it was decided instead to establish a routine of regular visits to his home by the Guerrero police.
This was completely inadequate and ineffective, according to Israel Flores of the National Press Workers Union (SNTP). “The police just got Cecilio to sign the document showing that they had visited his home and then they continued on their way,” he told RSF.
In a second risk assessment in October 2016, the Federal Mechanism decided that the level of risk was no longer sufficient to justify further protection. It therefore withdrew protection from Pineda and closed the case.
In a statement released a few hours after Pineda’s execution-style murder, the Federal Mechanism said his protection was withdrawn because he refused to relocate. But the law under which the Federal Mechanism was created and the Federal Mechanism’s own regulations make no provision for withdrawing protection and closing a case in the event of such a refusal.
“The local and federal authorities were aware of the level of risk to which Cecilio Pineda was exposed but neither were able to provide him with effective protection,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America desk.
“This case illustrates the crying need for a complete overhaul of the process of assessing risks and supervising the measures envisaged by the Federal Mechanism for Protecting Human Rights Defenders and Journalists in order to avoid a recurrence of this kind of tragedy.”
Pineda’s fellow journalists and family are convinced that he was murdered because of his work. A few hours before being gunned down, he retransmitted a video live on his Facebook page in which he accused the Tierra Caliente authorities of being linked to a local drug baron known as El Tequilero.
A week has gone by since his death, but the police and judicial investigators have not yet developed any hypothesis about the identity of his murderers or their motive.
Newspaper reporter Pedro Tamayo Rosas was gunned down in Tierra Blanca, in the eastern state of Veracruz, in July 2016 despite being under Veracruz state protection at the time.
In a report published on 2 February, entitled “Veracruz: journalists and the state of fear,” RSF provides a detailed examination of the flaws in Mexico’s mechanisms for protecting journalists in danger, and offers recommendations for improving the situation.
Mexico is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.