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Unprecedented response to Mexican journalist's murder

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In late February, journalists protest the murder of their colleague, Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz, and other journalists killed in Mexico. (AP/Marco Ugarte)

The disappearance and murder in Veracruz from February 5 through 11 of local journalist Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz remains mired in controversy.

In mid February, after Jiménez's murder, a group of journalists traveled to Veracruz and investigated the authorities' response to the journalist's killing. On March 19, the group, called Misión de Observación, published the findings of its unprecedented investigation in a report called "Gregorio: Asesinado por informar" (Gregorio: Murdered for Reporting). Their report documented Jiménez's disappearance and murder, the state's ineffective response, and the less-than-supportive working conditions of his newspapers in southern Veracruz.

Misión de Observación's report--and its 17 recommendations (available here, in English)--not only contextualizes Jiménez's murder in the violence of southern Veracruz but calls on state and federal authorities to investigate the case. Yet Veracruz authorities continue to maintain that Jiménez was killed for personal reasons, even though before his death he had documented a surge in kidnappings in the region around the oil industry at Coatzacoalcos.

The Misión's report also found that the newspapers Jiménez wrote for had paid him twenty pesos (about US$1.50) per story and failed to train him in the risks of reporting in a zone of heightened violence. One of the papers he wrote for, El Liberal del Sur, owed him 12 weeks of back pay at the time of his death. At his funeral, the newspaper presented his widow with a check for this amount, minus the cost of his camera.

The state governor, Javier Duarte de Ochoa--whose administration has presided over ineffective investigations into the deaths of multiple journalists since he came into office in 2010--immediately dismissed the report's findings and recommendations. He also rebuffed the report's calls to the state government to investigate how the murder could be linked to the reporter's work; to provide access to the more than dozen other case files of murdered and disappeared journalists in Veracruz; and to urge federal prosecutors to explain why they have not taken charge of the investigation.

Instead, Duarte said the prosecutors had "more than clarified" Jiménez's murder by arresting suspects who had "confessed," even though the state prosecutor and Duarte's head of communications resigned after the journalist's murder, supposedly for unrelated reasons. Responding to the Misión's statement about "deficiencies" in the case file, including claims by the group that five suspects had been tortured, the governor said state prosecutors "had not made any errors in the investigation."

The Misión's report disputed Duarte' claims and found that Veracruz officials' responses to the journalist's abduction and murder were neither timely nor effective. According to the report, state authorities failed to document their response to Jiménez's abduction. The Misión could not determine how many officers participated in the search, whether they were systematic, or how they found the safe house where Jiménez's abductors held him before his murder. The group also could not uncover the evidence that linked the five arrested suspects to the crime. And, since authorities did not document these suspects' medical condition before or after the interrogation, the Misión could report only that the suspects said they had been tortured.

Intense public pressure may have forced Veracruz authorities to grant the Misión access to Jiménez's case file. The move was unprecedented. Veracruz state authorities customarily refuse to disclose case-sensitive information to any third party, conveniently citing Mexican privacy laws. Authorities grant access only to parties with a direct relationship to the victim. In the case of Regina Martínez, murdered in Veracruz in April 2012, newsmagazine Proceso gained access to the file only because Martínez was their correspondent.

For the first time in a Veracruz case, CPJ received a letter from then Attorney General Amadeo Flores, dated February 14, 2014, that said his prosecutors were doing everything possible to solve the case.

But a few days later, Flores resigned.

This sensitivity to outside observation came to a head in late February after an organized response to Jiménez's murder by the Mexican press as well as international acts of solidarity--including by the eight Mexican-based correspondents for the Spanish newspaper El Pais, journalist Lydia Cacho, Pulitzer Prize winner Alejandra Xanic, and Carlos Dada, editor of El Salvador's El Faro. Well-known human rights defenders--such as Father Alejandro Solalinde, a migrant rights' organizer--also joined the protest.

Even so, nothing has made Duarte's government change its position--not the domestic and international public pressure, not the support from prominent activists and journalists, and not the Misión's report. The authorities continue to allege that a local bar owner contracted Jiménez's killing for personal reasons. Meanwhile, the Misión's report argues that the murder has to be connected to the reporter's work. And, without explanation, Laura Borbolla, the special prosecutor for crimes against freedom of expression at the Attorney General's office, declined to take the case away from Veracruz's state prosecutors.

Mexican journalists say they have never seen so much solidarity and cohesion in the wake of a reporter's disappearance and murder. On February 23, in Coatzacoalcos, the home city of Jiménez's newspaper El Liberal del Sur, and in other cities around the country including Xalapa, Mexico City, Tijuana, Culiacán, Juárez, and Torreón, public demonstrations called for a full investigation into the journalist's murder and the punishment of the perpetrators. Journalists led the demonstrations and distributed news of the protests via social media. Veracruz authorities seem to have been surprised that the case would generate protests and an independent investigation.

On March 21, two days after presenting the report in the Museo de Memoria y Tolerancia in Mexico City, the Misión's representatives also hand-delivered its findings to Catalina Botero, special rapporteur for freedom of expression at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C.

For its part, CPJ has classified Jiménez's murder as being related to his work and continues to call for the state to carry out an effective investigation.

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