Newspaper employees dragged from offices

New York, July 19, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists is outraged by the violent removal of 31 employees from the offices of the Oaxaca-based daily Noticias. The employees had been confined to their offices for the last several weeks, due to a blockade erected by a striking, pro-government union.

Around 8 p.m. Monday night, dozens of unidentified people stormed the offices of the newspaper, pulled journalists and press workers out of the building, and destroyed computers and furniture, according to local press reports. Raciel Martínez, a reporter with Noticias, told CPJ that some of the individuals wore masks and carried sticks, bottles, and pipes. A few suffered bruises, the reporter said, but no serious injuries were reported.

The intruders arrived at the newspaper with officials of the Oaxaca Attorney General’s Office, according to Noticias. State police who arrived on the scene did not intervene, the Mexico City-based daily Reforma reported.

Héctor Pablo Ramírez Puga Leyba, Communications Director with the Oaxaca government, told CPJ that the conflict is a labor dispute and insisted that governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz will not intervene.

The newspaper has continued publication out of a printing plant in a neighboring town. Police have confiscated copies of the newspaper and attacked its vendors, Noticias reported.

Members of the Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Peasants (CROC), a trade union with ties to the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), originally set up camp outside the newspaper on June 17, blocking its entrances and exits. Noticias staffers were not allowed to leave the building.

Demonstrators said they were on strike for wage increases, according to news sources. Newspaper employees interviewed by CPJ said that the demonstrators had no connection to the publication, that the staff opposed the “strike,” and that the blockade was an effort to suppress publication of the newspaper.

Octavio Vélez, a Noticias reporter, said the building’s electricity and telephone lines were cut on June 19, and power was not restored until the next day. The reporter said that the crowd outside blocked efforts to deliver food. Workers ate food that was in the company’s cafeteria, and some contracted illnesses as a result.

Noticias has been highly critical of Oaxaca state authorities and appears to be targeted for that reason, according to Pedro Matías, local correspondent with the Mexico City-based news magazine Proceso.

Last Saturday, July 16, Mexican President Vicente Fox expressed concern about the situation and promised to visit Oaxaca and meet with both sides.

On June 30, CPJ sent a letter to Oaxaca governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz expressing concern about the safety of the newspaper’s employees and calling on state authorities to end the blockade. (Read the letter.)

“We believe that this latest round of violence is aimed at intimidating Noticias and stifling critical coverage of the government,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We urge an immediate end to the harassment of this newspaper so that our colleagues can resume their work.”