Reporter seriously wounded; border city plagued by violenceGunmen storm Mexican newspaper

New York, February 7, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Monday’s vicious attack against the offices of the newspaper El Mañana in Nuevo Laredo, a city on the U.S.-Mexican border that is plagued by drug-related violence. Unidentified assailants fired assault rifles and tossed a grenade at the newspaper’s offices, causing considerable damage and seriously wounding one reporter. The paper’s editor was murdered just two years ago.

“This despicable attack must be fully investigated by Mexican authorities and those responsible must be brought to justice,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on President Vicente Fox to uphold his pledge to seek the nomination of a special prosecutor to investigate crimes against free expression, a position that will be crucial in the months leading up to the July presidential elections.”

At least two masked gunmen stormed the newsroom of El Mañana at around 8 p.m. on Monday, firing rifles and hurling a grenade, according to press reports. Reporter Jaime Orozco was struck by five shots, including one to the spinal area. Orozco was hospitalized in serious condition today.

The attack caused substantial damage to the offices. The reception area was destroyed, while glass shattered, power was cut, and bullets pitted the walls of the building, El Mañana said on its Web site. The several reporters and editors in the newsroom threw themselves to the ground after hearing the gunshots, the newspaper reported. Monday was Constitution Day, a national holiday in Mexico, so fewer reporters than usual were on duty when the attack occurred.

Nuevo Laredo, a city of 500,000 in the state of Tamaulipas, has been swept by a wave of violence related to drug trafficking. Guadalupe García Escamilla, a crime reporter, died in the city last April from injuries she suffered in a shooting in front of her radio station.

Since the turf war between drug cartels intensified two years ago, many journalists working along the U.S.-Mexico border have engaged in self-censorship, CPJ research shows. State authorities have been unable to provide adequate protection.

The newspaper’s editor, Roberto Javier Mora García, was stabbed to death in March 2004, prompting El Mañana to censor its coverage on sensitive issues such as drug trafficking and organized crime. “We can’t do investigative journalism on these topics, as the state does not guarantee the security of our reporters,” Editorial Director Heriberto Cantú told CPJ in a recent interview. “There is no freedom of expression without guarantees to exercise journalism.”

CPJ research shows that northern Mexico—particularly the region along the U.S.-Mexican border—has become one of the most dangerous places in Latin America for journalists. Mexican journalists are targeted for their coverage of sensitive issues such as drug trafficking, organized crime, and political corruption.

Four Mexican journalists have been killed in reprisal for their work in the last five years, CPJ research shows. CPJ 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.

Following a meeting with a CPJ delegation in New York City on September 15, Fox said he would ask his nation’s attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate crimes against free expression.

In January, CPJ sent Fox a letter expressing disappointment that the special prosecutor had not yet been appointed and urging him to expedite the nomination.