February 19, 2010 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Authorities free activist wrongly accused of murdering US cameraman Brad Will

Juan Manuel Martínez Moreno, a grass-roots activist who had been wrongly held for the past year as a suspect in the 2006 murder of US cameraman Brad Will of the Indymedia agency in the southern city Oaxaca, was finally released yesterday for lack of evidence.

Martínez participated in a series protests that the Popular Assembly of Oaxaca Peoples (APPO) staged against Oaxaca governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz in 2006. Will sympathised with the protests and was filming a major one when he was shot on 27 October 2006.

“I was unjustly deprived of my freedom,” Martínez told local journalists yesterday. “There is evidence that shows who did this murder, but those who did it are being protected by Ulises Ruiz’s administration.”

The Will family lawyer, Miguel Ángel de los Santos, told Reporters Without Borders: “We are now waiting for the investigation to resume, but this time in an objective manner.” De los Santos never thought Martínez had anything to do with Will’s murder and nor did Reporters Without Borders. Martínez was scapegoat. To protect the governor’s bodyguards, the Oaxaca authorities used the local judicial authorities to try to pin the murder on the APPO.

This episode has highlighted the incompetence or complicity of both the local and federal authorities at a time when press freedom is seriously threatened in Mexico, now the hemisphere’s most dangerous country for journalists. A recent study by Article 19 and the National Centre for Social Communication (Cencos), a Mexican NGO, blamed 65 per cent of the attacks on the press on the authorities, and only 6.15 per cent on organised crime. Read also our report.

A new prosecutor, Gustavo Salas Chávez, took over at the head of the FEADP on 15 February. What resources does he plan to deploy to solve all the cases that have gone nowhere? What changes need to be made to the FEADP so that it could do the job it is supposed to do? We put these questions to Yolanda Valencia Vales, the head of the Chamber of Deputies’ Special Commission for Monitoring Attacks on Journalists and Media, in a letter on 22 January. She has not yet replied.

Since the start of the year, three journalists have been murdered in Mexico, which is ranked 137th out of 175 countries in the 2009 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. A total of 61 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2000, and nine have disappeared.

Photo : The Indypendent