December 16, 2020

Journalist gunned down in Zacatecas state after photographing murder victims

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for urgent reinforced protection for journalists in Mexico, where the spiral of violence against the media has taken another fatal victim, this time a photojournalist based in Jerez, a town in the north-central state of Zacatecas.

Jaime Castaño Zacarías, the editor of the PrensaLibreMx news website, was gunned down on 9 December as he was returning from covering an event in the west of the town for the mayor, for whom he also worked.

According to colleagues contacted by RSF and witnesses quoted by the newspaper La Jornada, Castaño stopped on his way back to photograph the bodies of two men who had just been murdered. When told him to delete his photos by a man at the scene (at which the police had not yet arrived), Castaño refused and drove off. A few kilometres further on, he was caught up by another car whose occupants opened fire, killing him on the spot.

The local authorities must shed all possible light on the Jaime Castaño’s execution-style murder,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America desk. “The level of violence against the Mexican media is appalling. We call on both local and federal authorities to take stock of journalists’ extreme vulnerability and do what is necessary to guarantee their safety in this region and the rest of the country.”

Castaño was an experienced photo-journalist who had worked for years for the regional newspaper El Sol de Zacatecas. He posted articles about the environment on PrensaLibreMx, as well as other stories. The authorities have so far made no official statement about the investigation into his murder and RSF was unsuccessful in its attempts to reach Jerez’s mayor or the Zacatecas state prosecutor’s office.

Jerez has seen many murders and abductions since August, along with frequent clashes between two of Mexico’s most dangerous and powerful cartels, the Jalisco Nueva Generación cartel and the Sinaloa cartel. A total of 26 murders were reported in the region during the past weekend, 14 of them in the town alone.

At least seven other journalists have been murdered in connection with their work in 2020 in Mexico, making it the world’s deadliest country for the media. This year’s seven other victims are Arturo Alba Medina, Israël Vázquez Rangel, Julio Valdivia Rodríguez, Pablo Morrugares, Víctor Fernando Álvarez Chávez, Jorge Miguel Armenta Ávalos and Maria Elena Ferral Hernández.

Mexico is ranked 143rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index .