CPJ urges inquiry into murder of journalist

New York, March 12, 2001—In a recent letter to Arturo González Rascón, Attorney General of the State of Chihuahua, CPJ expressed its concern about the murder of José Luis Ortega Mata, the editor of the weekly Semanario de Ojinaga, based in Ojinaga, Chihuahua State.

Ortega Mata, 37, was shot twice in the head at close range with a .22 caliber firearm on the evening of February 19, according to local press reports. The journalist’s minivan was found with its engine running and the lights on. His wallet and cameras were not taken, making robbery an unlikely motive.

Friends and relatives of the journalist have linked his murder to a front-page story in the February 15 issue of Semanario de Ojinaga. The article reported that the federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) was investigating drug trafficking activities in the town of Aldama, near the state capital, Chihuahua. Semanario de Ojinaga also claimed that local traffickers were moving drugs from safe houses in Aldama through Ojinaga to the United States.

It has also been reported that Semanario de Ojinaga was about to publish a story alleging that drug traffickers funded the electoral campaigns of local politicians, and that Ortega Mata had received threats in connection with the story. In the past, the weekly has run articles critical of local politicians and police.

However, some CPJ sources have suggested another possible motive, offering some evidence that the murder may have been a crime of passion.

Journalists in border towns are particularly exposed to attacks by drug-traffickers and corrupt law enforcement personnel in league with them. Most murders of Mexican journalists remain unsolved. Such attacks seriously endanger press freedom and hamper attempts to combat corruption.

In its March 7 letter, CPJ urged González Rascón to carry out a prompt and thorough investigation into Ortega Mata’s murder, arguing that since freedom of expression is protected under Article 6 of the Mexican Constitution, the case should also be referred to federal authorities if it emerged that the journalist was killed in reprisal for his work.