Action follows newspaper attack; Mexico to name special prosecutor for crimes against press

New York, February 8, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists applauds a Mexican official’s announcement today that the government will name a special prosecutor to investigate crimes against journalists. The move comes two days after gunmen stormed a newspaper office in the U.S.-Mexico border town of Nuevo Laredo, seriously wounding one reporter.

The announcement was long anticipated. President Vicente Fox pledged in a meeting with CPJ in September that he would seek to create the position in response to a wave of murderous violence against the media in the northern states.

“We’re gratified that the Mexican government is taking this very important step toward protecting free expression in this country,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “The nomination of a special prosecutor will provide citizens in Mexico, including journalists, a legal framework that protects freedom of expression.”

The announcement was made this morning by a top federal prosecutor, Gilberto Higuera Bernal, during the popular Mexico City radio program “Hoy por Hoy,” hosted by Carmen Aristegui. CPJ had urged the appointment after its research found that northern Mexico had become one of the most dangerous places in Latin America for journalists. The finding was further borne out on Monday night, when two unidentified men fired assault rifles and hurled a grenade at the Nuevo Laredo daily El Mañana. Reporter Jaime Orozco, who was wounded in the attack, was in stable condition today following surgery.

Attorney General Daniel Cabeza de Vaca “has decided that starting on February 15 the special prosecutor will be nominated and working,” Higuera Bernal said. He said that the special prosecutor “will take up cases as proposed by CPJ in the meeting with President Fox in September 2005.”

The special prosecutor will work under the supervision of the deputy prosecutor for the human rights division of the attorney general’s office and will coordinate with 32 federal agents assigned throughout several states, Higuera Bernal said. The name of the appointee was not disclosed.

The attorney general’s spokesman, José Luis López Atienzo, told CPJ that further details of the appointment would be announced in the next two days during a scheduled meeting of prosecutors from throughout the country.

As proposed by CPJ, the special prosecutor would evaluate all crimes against free expression, determining which should be directly prosecuted by federal authorities. The right to free expression is guaranteed by Articles 6 and 7 of the Mexican Constitution.

CPJ asked that the prosecutor’s appointment be made in consultation with the media and with press and free expression organizations. The nominee, CPJ suggested, should be widely respected by all levels of Mexican society.

Before meeting with Fox in New York, CPJ had sent the president’s office a proposal urging greater and more permanent involvement by federal authorities in the investigation of crimes against free expression. State investigations of journalist murders have stalled or moved forward only sluggishly, CPJ research shows. State and local authorities are more prone to corruption, have fewer resources, and are subject to less accountability, CPJ found.

Four Mexican journalists have been killed in direct reprisal for their work in the last five years, CPJ research shows. The organization is investigating the slayings of five other journalists, whose murders may also be related to their work. Yet another reporter—Alfredo Jiménez Mota of the Hermosillo daily El Imparcial—has been missing since April 2, 2005, and is feared dead.

“This nomination affirms the Mexican federal government’s commitment to upholding the right of free expression enshrined in its constitution,” said CPJ Chairman Paul Steiger, who led the meeting with Fox in September. “We hope it will also set an example for all those countries where journalists are killed with impunity.”