Héctor Camero, a representative of Radio Tierra y Libertad, a community radio station based in a poor neighbourhood of Monterrey (in the northeastern state of Nuevo León), was told on 3 November that he has been sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of 15,000 pesos (900 euros) on a charge of “using, developing and exploiting radio frequencies without a licence.”
The sentence deals another setback to Mexico’s community radio stations and comes just three weeks after police raided and dismantled Radio Proletaria, a community radio station in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, in the southeastern state of Chiapas on 12 October.
The sentence is clearly absurd and dangerous. Why convict Camero on this charge now, when Radio Tierra y Libertad was given a broadcasting licence in a legal manner in 2009, after a seven-year wait?
The prosecution of Camera has its origins in a raid by 120 Federal Preventive Police who broke their way into the radio station and seized equipment on 6 June 2008. Initially regarded as a witness of police abuses during the raid, Camera suddenly found that prosecutors were treating him as a suspect.
A Nuevo León state criminal court has now used article 150 of the Law on National Patrimony to sentence him to imprisonment, contravening article 6 of the federal constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, and contravening provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights regarding pluralism and minority media.
If the sentence is enforced, Camero will become the second journalist currently detained in Mexico. The other is Jesús Lemus Barajas, the editor of the daily El Tiempo in the state of Michoacán, who has been held since 15 May 2008 on a questionable drug-trafficking charge that has not been brought to trial. Reporters Without Borders calls for Lemus’s release in the absence of any serious evidence and in view of the investigation’s many irregularities
Camero was notified of his jail sentence on the same day that a convention on new “protection mechanisms” for journalists was signed under interior minister Francisco Blake Mora’s aegis. Essentially a government document that involves the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), it reflects President Felipe Calderón’s declared desire to improve protection for journalists and to make crimes of violence against the press a federal crime.
A “Risk Evaluation Committee” consisting of representatives of the government departments involved and three media representatives is now supposed to study how the convention will be implemented.
While noting this display of political will, Reporters Without Borders would like to make the following comments:
- Héctor Camero’s jail sentence, together with the dismantling of Radio Proletaria and the criminalization of other community radio stations, are a complete contradiction of the desire to guarantee the safety of journalists. You cannot obstruct freedom of expression and seek to protect media personnel at the same time.
- Media safety cannot be guaranteed without real efforts to combat impunity for murders of journalists, in which in some cases federal and local officials have been implicated. The advent of truth and justice requires real institutional reform and investing resources in investigations. Sixty-nine journalists have been killed since 2000 and 11 have gone missing since 2003. Twelve have been murdered since the start of the year. A link with the victim’s work as a journalist has been established (or is probable) in eight of these 12 cases.
The latest journalist to be killed is Carlos Alberto Guajardo Romero of El Expreso, a daily based in Matamoros, in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas. Aged 37, Gujardo was fatally shot on 5 November while covering a shootout between soldiers, members of the Gulf Cartel and members of the “Zetas” gang.
- The Risk Evaluation Committee, like future entities tasked with implement new “mechanisms,” should consult with all the various journalistic sectors and with Mexican and international organizations that defend freedom of expression. Reporters Without Borders would like to be involved.
- Making crimes of violence against the press a federal crime is a proposal that has been around since the start of President Calderón’s six-year term. As already said, it will only have an impact if the fight against impunity is given the resources to conduct proper investigations and examine the actions of state agents. The special prosecutor’s office (Fiscalía Especial) that was set up for this purpose in February 2006 has so far achieved nothing of any significance.