The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide, condemns the murder of Mexican journalist Francisco Javier Ortiz Franco, who was killed yesterday in the border city of Tijuana, in Baja California state.
Ortiz Franco, a lawyer and co-editor of the Tijuana-based weekly Zeta, had just left a physical therapy clinic with his two children when masked gunmen in a vehicle pulled up to his car and shot him four times in the head and neck, according to local news reports. Ortiz Franco died at the scene. His children were unharmed.
Baja California's Attorney General Antonio Willehado Martínez Luna traveled to Tijuana yesterday to hold a press conference in which he explained the details of the crime and announced the beginning of an investigation into Ortiz Franco's murder. Yesterday, Mexican President Vicente Fox Quesada issued a statement condemning the murder.
Zeta released a statement yesterday saying the paper would not comment on possible motives for or suspects in Ortiz Franco's murder until the paper carries out its own journalistic investigation. The weekly called on state and federal authorities to conduct an investigation into the murder, to find those responsible, and to provide the public with information about it.
Ortiz Franco, one of the founders of Zeta in 1980, was a member of its editorial board and wrote its editorials, according to Zeta's statement. He was also involved in many investigative reports. In addition, he was a member of a working group jointly created by the Mexican government and the Inter-American Press Association with a mandate to review the official investigations and legal proceedings on the murders of Héctor Félix Miranda, Zeta's co-founder, and Víctor Manuel Oropeza, a columnist with the Diario de Juárez newspaper.
For years, Zeta has covered corruption and drug trafficking in Tijuana and has received frequent threats because of its award-winning reports. In April 1988, Miranda was shot dead by two men who had been working as security guards at a racetrack owned by Jorge Hank Rhon, an influential businessman who is now running for mayor of Tijuana.
In November 1997, the Tijuana drug cartel, headed by the brothers Ramón and Benjamín Arellano Félix, wounded the weekly's publisher, J. Jesús Blancornelas, in an attack and killed Luis Valero Elizalde, Blancornelas' friend and bodyguard. Bodyguards from an army special forces unit now provide permanent protection to Blancornelas.
The U.S.-Mexico border remains a dangerous place for journalists, who are targeted by drug traffickers and corrupt security personnel in the region. While the motives behind Ortiz's murder are not yet known, the climate of impunity created by the failure to fully investigate and prosecute previous murders clearly led whoever carried out this crime to conclude that they could get away with it. We call on you to devote the full resources of your office to breaking this cycle of impunity by aggressively pursuing this investigation and making sure that those responsible are apprehended and punished. Furthermore, because Article 6 of the 1917 Mexican Constitution obligates the Mexican federal government to guarantee the right to information, we urge federal authorities to take a direct interest in the case, and we are pleased that they have begun to do so.
Thank you for your attention to this serious matter. We await your response.