In a tragic irony, reporter Benjamín Morales Hernández’s body was found at the side of a road between Caborca and Sonoyta, two towns near the US border, on 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, one day after gunmen hijacked him in his own vehicle near his home.
After his family reported him missing, the police found the vehicle first and then his body a few kilometres away in the early hours of the morning. The Sonora state prosecutor’s office has said it is investigating several leads.
Morales was the founder and editor of Noticias Xonoidag, a local news outlet on Facebook, in which – just one day before his abduction – he reported that he had been threatened and said he feared for his life.
“Those responsible for Benjamín Morales Hernández’s execution-style murder must be identified and brought to justice without delay, and the investigators should under no circumstances neglect the hypothesis that he was killed in connection with his reporting,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau.
“Journalism is a risky activity in Sonora state and everything must be done to reinforce protection for the media, especially at the local level, where journalists who prove to be annoying are extremely vulnerable and at the mercy of armed groups.”
Morales covered local news, including politics and cultural activities, on Noticias Xonoidag, which he had created in 2014. He had recently been covering local election campaigns in Sonora, which has become an especially dangerous state for the press.
Two Sonora journalists – Jorge Molontzín, a reporter for magazine Confidencial, and Pablo Romero Chávez, a reporter for the newspaper El Vigía and Radio FM 105 – have been missing since 10 March and 25 March respectively, without any trace of them being found by the local authorities.
Morales is the first journalist to be murdered in Mexico this year. At least eight journalists were murdered in direct connection with their work last year in Mexico, confirming its status as one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the media.
Mexico is ranked 143rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.