MEXICO: Two more murders of journalists highlight need for effective measures to end impunity

MEXICO: Two more murders of journalists highlight need for effective measures to end impunity

(London, 3 March 2014) PEN International is deeply concerned by the reports of the recent murders of journalists Miguel Ángel Guzmán Garduño and Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz, whose bodies were found in the space of less than three weeks, and by the authorities’ apparent discarding of their work as a possible motive.

The Mexican authorities must carry out a prompt and thorough investigation into these and all other killings of journalists and bring those responsible for these crimes to justice,’ said Ann Harrison, Programme Director of the global writers’ organisation’s Writers in Prison Committee.

It is also simply not good enough for the authorities to discount so quickly the possibility that their killings were connected to their work as journalists, when we know the long history of impunity for journalists’ murders in Mexico.’

The organisation highlighted the need for all investigations of killings of journalists to involve the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (Fiscal Especial para la Atención a Delitos cometidos contra la Libertad de Expresión – FEADLE) and called on the Mexican authorities to ensure that all investigations are both rigorous and provided with enough resources to ensure that there is a meaningful likelihood of ensuring justice.

Previous investigations into earlier killings, such as that of Regina Martínez in April 2012, have been marked by investigative failures and controversy. In this respect, PEN International notes that Enoc Maldonado, who headed up the investigation into Martínez’ case, has been appointed as the prosecutor to investigate the killing of Jiménez.

Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to work as a journalist. Including Jiménez and Guzmán, a total of 51 print and internet journalists and writers have been murdered in Mexico since December 2006, when former president Felipe Calderón began his armed offensive against the drug cartels. At least nine print journalists have disappeared in the same period. Few if any of these crimes have been solved. Veracruz in particular is widely recognised as one of the most dangerous states in which to work as a journalist. A video on the extent of the problem can be viewed here.

Miguel Ángel Guzmán Garduño found beaten to death

Miguel Ángel Guzmán Garduño, an opinion columnist for the daily newspaper Vértice, was reportedly found dead at his home in Chilpancingo, capital of Guerrero state, on the evening of 23 January 2014. His body, discovered in his bedroom by his brother, was reported to have been found in an advanced state of decomposition. According to reports, Guzmán (55) also worked as a primary school teacher and had previously worked as the head of public relations for the state of Guerrero’s public sector workers’ union (Sindicato Único de Servidores Públicos del Estado de Guerrero – SUSPEG).

Statements made by Mexican authorities have indicated that they believe that Guzmán was beaten to death in a suspected robbery, on the basis that a number of electrical items had been removed from his home and his car was also missing. However, on 24 January the chief of the National Commission of Human Rights (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos – CNDH) called on the federal and state authorities to conduct a timely and thorough investigation into Guzmán’s murder as an attack on freedom of expression. The CNDH also launched its own parallel investigation into the killing.

Guzmán’s murder marked the first murder of a journalist in Mexico in 2014 and the first since July 2013. Sadly, the second followed less than three weeks later.

Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz abducted and killed

On 11 February 2014, the body of Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz, a reporter covering the police beat for the newspaper El Liberal del Sur and the news agency NotiSur, was found in a clandestine grave in Las Choapas, Veracruz state, alongside that of union leader Ernesto Ruiz Guillen and an unidentified taxi driver. Jiménez (42) had recently covered the recent wave of kidnappings reported in Villa Allende municipality of Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz – including that of Ernesto Ruiz Guillen.

Abducted by armed men from his home in Coatzacoalcos on 5 February, Jiménez was reportedly forced, handcuffed, into an unmarked grey pickup truck. His abduction led to consternation among Mexican journalists and the international community alike who hoped that he might be returned alive. Campaigns for Jiménez’ release gained momentum over the days until the discovery of his body. However forensic reports indicate that it is likely that he was killed the day after he was kidnapped, on 6 February 2014.

The initial stages of the investigation into Jiménez’ abduction were widely reported to be inadequate; however, a joint operation conducted by the army, navy and Veracruz state police was later instigated. The arrest of a man at Coatzacoalcos bus station by members of the Veracruz Investigation Agency (Agencia Veracruzana de Investigaciones, AVI) on 10 February eventually led to the discovery of Jiménez’ body and the apprehension of five other suspects. On interrogation, the man reportedly confessed to his role in Jiménez’ murder and identified Teresa de Jesús Hernández – Jiménez’ neighbour and owner of a local bar – as the intellectual author of the crime. According to the Veracruz state prosecutor (Procurador General de Justicia de Veracruz), Felipe Amadeo Flores Espinosa, Hernández hired the group to kidnap and kill Jiménez following a series of personal differences, for the sum of 20,000 pesos (approx. US$1,500). Hernández and the other five suspects are all detained pending trial.

The investigation remains open, with a further three suspects sought for arrest. However, PEN International is concerned by reports that just hours after Jiménez’ body was discovered the state prosecutor had already discarded the possibility of the victim’s journalism as the motive in favour of “personal vengeance”; these concerns were highlighted in a statement by PEN Mexico on 11 February.

The personal vengeance motive is based on Hernández having reportedly threatened Jiménez three months prior to his murder. The authorities claim that the threats followed a conflict between Hernández’ son and Jiménez’ daughter, who had allegedly been romantically involved.

However, in an interview, Jiménez’ wife said that the dispute arose from articles that the journalist had written on homicides that allegedly took place in Hernández’ bar. A number of Jiménez’ colleagues are also reported to have questioned the investigation’s conclusions, urging that his journalism not be ruled out as a possible motive and citing the fact that Jiménez had written two articles on the disappearance of union leader Ernesto Ruiz Guillen.

Ignoring the possibility that the killing was related to Jiménez’ work as a journalist is all the more concerning in light of information reportedly received by ARTICLE 19 indicating that a criminal group had given orders to its members to threaten local media in the southern region of Veracruz in the six months prior to Jiménez’ murder. The intention was to deter reporting on the group’s criminal activities.

PEN International’s campaigning against impunity in Mexico

PEN International has been campaigning for an end to impunity for the killings of journalists in Mexico since 2009 when it launched its campaign Freedom to Write in the Americas.  Since then, the organisation has sent two high level delegations to the country in January 2012 and March 2013 to press the authorities to address the issue more seriously.

In late 2012, PEN International published the anthology Write Against Impunity, a literary protest highlighting the escalating violence against journalists, writers and bloggers in Latin America – in particular Mexico, Honduras and Brazil – and the impunity enjoyed by those who commit these crimes.

At its 79th International Congress held in Reykjavik, Iceland in September 2013, the gathered Assembly of Delegates passed a resolution on Mexico calling for the clear resolution of crimes against journalists, that freedom of expression to be guaranteed throughout the territory, and that the federal government make effective use of new tools for the ‘federalisation’ of crimes, as well as another on the wider problem of impunity in Latin America as a whole.

In March 2013 PEN International and Guadalajara PEN submitted a shadow report on violence and impunity in Mexico to the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights as part of the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review of Mexico’s human rights record. In its report, PEN calls for full and transparent federal-level investigations into the murder and disappearance of journalists and writers as well as investigations into all allegations of attacks carried out by government entities. PEN also called for the strengthening of Mexico’s protection mechanism for journalists and human rights defenders. The report and PEN’s recommendations can be viewed here.

In the Human Rights Council’s review of Mexico in October 2013, 26 states made recommendations on strengthening protection mechanisms for journalists. Mexico is currently examining all recommendations made and will indicate which ones it accepts during the 25th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2014.