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CPJ calls on Mexican authorities in Sinaloa to repeal restrictive law

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In this May 12, 2014 photo, forensic workers examine the scene where an activist for missing persons was gunned down by unknown assailants in Culiacan, Mexico. (AP/El Debate, Dulce Mercado)

Mexico City, August 4, 2014--The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the state congress in Sinaloa to repeal a law passed on Wednesday that would severely restrict the ability of the press to report on crime scenes and criminal investigations. Local congressmen presented a bill on Friday that would repeal the law, according to an official statement. As the congress is in recess, the bill will not be voted upon until August 21, the statement said.

The restrictive provisions were part of an overhaul of the state attorney general's office approved by local lawmakers in conjunction with a nationwide reform of the criminal justice system. Journalists reviewing the legislation after it was passed noticed a section stating that officials can only speak to the press about investigations if authorized to do so by the attorney general, and prohibiting journalists from accessing, taking photographs, or filming at crime scenes, according to news reports.

Information would be released "at the discretion of the attorney general's office," Gabriel Mercado, director of the local press group Asociación de Periodistas y Comunicadores 7 de Junio, told CPJ. "What they want is that we publish the official version," said Javier Valdez Cárdenas, co-founder of the independent weekly Ríodoce in Culiacán, the Sinaloa capital, and a 2011 CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee.

After widespread condemnation of the law by the press and civil society groups, state congressmen announced late Friday that had introduced a bill to repeal the law. One lawmaker said she was unaware of the restrictive provisions when she voted in favor of it, according to Ríodoce.

"Seeking to limit reporting on violence in a place as plagued by organized crime as Sinaloa is a disservice to the people of the state," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon from New York. "The press must be allowed to report on matters of such key public interest. The Sinaloa congress should vote to repeal these provisions."

Sinaloa Governor Mario López Valdez said in a statement on Thursday, "It is not the government's intention to commit excesses or even less to limit free journalistic expression in Sinaloa. Rather, on the contrary, it is to provide the conditions to guarantee the free and safe exercise of the profession," according to news reports. However, the governor said he would respect the congress's decision.

Sinaloa--home to the Sinaloa cartel--has long been plagued by violence related to drug trafficking and is a dangerous place for journalists. The daily Noroeste suffered a series of threats, harassment, and attacks after its coverage of the capture in late February of the notorious head of the Sinaloa cartel, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, who was a fugitive for years.

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