Dear Mr. Martínez:
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) strongly protests the detention of Mexican journalist Isabel Arvide, who was charged with criminal defamation on December 23, 2002, by Chihuahua State attorney general, Jesús Solís Silva.
Arvide, a Mexico Citybased journalist and author who has written many exposés about drug traffickers, corruption, and violence, as well as the book Muerte en Juárez (Death in Juarez), was detained at around 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 4, in Chihuahua City, where she is required to appear every two weeks before Judge Octavio Rodríguez Gaytán, of the Second Penal Court, in connection with another criminal defamation complaint filed against her in 2002.
According to Arvide’s son Bruno Cárcamo Arvide, the journalist was never notified that Solís had filed a suit against her. She had just finished eating at a local restaurant before leaving for the airport when about 20 Chihuahua State police agents arrested her.
Isabel Arvide told CPJ that she spent around 24 hours isolated in a cell at Chihuahua’s Social Rehabilitation Center before being released on bail, which was set at 200,000 Mexican pesos (around US$20,000), at around 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 5. Arvide then flew to Mexico City. Today, Friday, March 7, she must appear in court in Chihuahua so that her detention order and her release on bail can be formally announced. Under Mexico’s Criminal Code, Arvide faces six months to two years in prison if convicted.
Attorney General Solís’ suit stems from a June 2, 2001, article by Arvide that appeared on the journalist’s Web site, www.isabelarvide.com, and in the Mexico City daily Milenio. The piece alleged that a number of state government officials, including Solís, and newspaper publisher Osvaldo Rodríguez Borunda, had organized a new drug cartel in Chihuahua.
This is not the first time that Arvide has been detained for criminal defamation. On August 16, 2002, Chihuahua State police arrested Arvide after Rodríguez Borunda, owner of Editora Paso del Norte, a publishing company that owns the Chihuahua dailies El Diario de Chihuahua and El Diario de Juárez, filed a criminal defamation suit against her in connection to the June 2001 article. Rodríguez Borunda requested 50 million pesos (US$5,000,000) in “moral damages.” Arvide was released more than 24 hours later, after paying a bail of 100,000 Mexican pesos (US$10,000). She must appear before Judge Rodríguez Gaytán every 15 days and sign a court record while her trial continues.
Arvide, who needs judicial authorization to leave the country, must make frequent trips to Chihuahua. Travel costs and high legal expenses have strained her resources and hampered her journalistic work. In December 2002, Judge Rodríguez Gaytán rejected an injunction she filed in August 2002 against the arrest warrant and the detention order against her.
Arvide filed an appeal at the end of December, and on February 20, 2003, a federal judge annulled her detention order and ordered Judge Rodríguez Gaytán to review his ruling. On March 4, hours before her second arrest, she was informed that Judge Rodríguez Gaytán had upheld her detention order. Arvide plans to file a second appeal.
The journalist fears that she may be jailed at any moment since the Chihuahua State Attorney General’s Office has asked that her bail be revoked because she is a repeat offender.
CPJ believes that journalists should never be criminally prosecuted for their work. There is a growing international consensus that civil penalties are adequate redress in defamation cases. Furthermore, as a government official, Attorney General Solís must tolerate public scrutiny of his activities and should only be entitled to legal recourse if he can demonstrate that a journalist published a defamatory falsehood with the intention of causing him harm. That the latest criminal defamation lawsuit against Arvide has been filed by Solís can only have a chilling effect on the dissemination of news that criticizes Chihuahua state authorities.
We urge you to do everything in your power to ensure that journalists are able to report without fear of being subjected to prosecution on criminal defamation charges in Chihuahua.