Evaristo Ortega Zárate, the editor of the local weekly Espacio in Colipa, in the eastern state of Veracruz, has just become the 11th journalist to disappear in Mexico since 2004. His sister Irene received several messages from him on 20 April reporting that he had just been arrested by police while on his way to Xalapa, the state capital. He has been missing ever since.
“Alert everyone... They’ve arrested us... They have made us get into a police car,” Ortega said in his last message to his sister. They family has been looking for him in vain since then. The local police have denied any involvement.
The Centre for Journalism and Public Ethics (CEPET) quoted the Veracruz Commission for the Defence of Journalists as saying the state attorney-general’s office took more than 24 hours to open an investigation although the local authorities were notified of Ortega’s disappearance at once.
Ortega had announced his desire to run for mayor of Colipa as candidate of the National Action Party (PAN), President Felipe Calderón’s party. He was seen in a PAN branch office 10 minutes before he sent the first of his SMS messages to his sister. Another PAN member who wanted to be the party’s mayoral candidate in Colipa disappeared around the same time as Ortega.
Ortega’s family has complained of getting little support from PAN. At the same time, the head of the State Commission for Human Rights, Nohemí Quirasco, has strangely ruled out any possibility that Ortega’s disappearance is linked to his work as a journalist. Claiming she was completely unaware that he was a journalist, she also described him as a “complete unknown.”
Light needs to be shed on both the circumstances and motive of Ortega’s disappearance. It could be linked to his intention to be a candidate and it could be linked to his position as newspaper editor. The local judicial authorities, who have been slow to react, must make it their priority to investigate the ranks of the police.
Quirasco must also explain her disgraceful comments. Is a little-known person of no importance? Or was there a desire to quickly hush up a case involving the police? Local human rights and free expression NGOs blame the authorities for 65 per cent of the murders and physical attacks in which Mexican journalists and news media are the targets.
Ortega is the second journalist to disappear in Mexico in less than a month. Five or possibly six journalists have been murdered since the start of the 2010 and a total of 62 have been murdered since 2000. Mexico and nearby Honduras are currently the western hemisphere’s two most dangerous countries for the media.
Photo : Solución Política