May 24, 2000
Jorge Madrazo Cuéllar
Attorney General of Mexico
Dear Mr. Madrazo:
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is concerned about the prosecution of Melitón García, a reporter with the Monterrey-based daily El Norte, who is being charged under Mexico’s federal electoral law for fraudulently obtaining a voter credential. If convicted, García could be jailed for up to six years.
The charges against García stem from a two-part series published in El Norte on May 16 and 17, in which the journalist reported on his own efforts to obtain a voting credential using a false birth certificate. In the article, García described how coyotes, or unofficial document expediters who congregate outside government offices, sell false birth certificates for 1000 pesos (US$110). Under Article 247 of Mexico’s penal code it is illegal to obtain a false voter credential. Authorities from the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), who referred the case to the special prosecutor for electoral offenses, have argued that García is being prosecuted for his illegal actions, and not for his journalism.
While we believe that journalists, like all citizens, must respect the law, we feel that there are several reasons to question the prosecution of García, and we urgently request more information about the status of the case against him.
According to the penal code it is a crime to falsify a voter credential when the act is committed with malice, or dolo. The law states, “In order for the crime of falsification of documents to be punishable it is necessary … that the falsifier had the intention of achieving some advantage for himself, or for another, or cause damage to the society, the state, or a third party …” (Article 245: Para que el delito de falsificaci–n de documentos sea sanciable como tal, se necessita que … el falsario se proponga sacar algún provecho para sí o para otro, o causar perjuicio a la sociedad, al Estado o a un tercero …).
Clearly, García’s actions were not motivated by malice, but rather by the obligation to inform the public about possible deficiencies in the voter registration system. Because García’s intention was not to commit voter fraud, but rather to prevent it, we do not believe he violated the law. In his reporting, García was able to demonstrate that despite the safeguards that have been instituted, it remains relatively easy to obtain a false voter credential. This information is of vital public importance because of the history of voter fraud in Mexico.
It is the responsibility of journalists to monitor all public authorities and probe for abuses, problems, or shortcomings. We believe that García was carrying out this function to the best of his ability and without criminal intent. According to the statute itself, there can be no crime without criminal intent. For this reason we call on you to refrain from prosecuting this case, and to dismiss the charges against García.
Thank you for your consideration. We await your response.