Daily in northern Mexico shuts down after attacks

New York, May 25, 2007—The Mexican federal government must provide immediate protection to the Hermosillo-based daily Cambio de Sonora so it can resume publishing, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The paper announced Thursday that it would suspend publication after two bomb attacks and repeated threats.

Mario Vázquez Raña, president of the Mexican Editorial Organization (OEM), which owns Cambio de Sonora, announced the daily’s closure in an open letter posted on the paper’s Web site. In the letter, Vázquez said the bomb attacks and threats, the lack of protection from local authorities, and the general insecurity in Hermosillo have forced OEM to close the paper temporarily in order to protect its staff. Hermosillo is in the northern state of Sonora, about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) northwest of Mexico City.

“The state of Sonora does not guarantee the security and protection that [the paper’s staff] requires,” said Vázquez in the letter. “We can not give ourselves the luxury of waiting.” OEM did not say when or under what circumstances Cambio de Sonora might resume publication.

On May 16, a grenade exploded inside the paper’sparking lot, according to press reports and CPJ interviews. A month earlier, unidentified individuals in a moving vehicle had tossed a grenade into the paper’s front garden the daily’s general director, Roberto Gutiérrez, told CPJ. No one was injured during the explosions, which caused minor damages, said Gutiérrez.

Gutiérrez told CPJ that Cambio de Sonora had already stopped publishing in-depth reports on organized crime or the narcotics trade. Gutiérrez said that he didn’t know what had prompted the recent attacks.

“President Calderón’s administration must act immediately to allow Cambio de Sonora to resume publishing,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “This incident sets a chilling precedent and illustrates how unpunished intimidation is muzzling the Mexican press.”

An ongoing war between powerful drug cartels has intensified in the last three years, especially in the country’s northern states. CPJ research shows that Mexican journalists who report on organized crime are also facing greater risks. Since 2000, six journalists have been murdered in direct reprisal for their work in Mexico, and CPJ is investigating the circumstances surrounding the slayings of 12 others. In addition, five journalists have disappeared since 2005; three of them this year.
On May 9, a CPJ delegation met with the Mexican ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan Casamitjana. The delegation called on Mexico’s federal government to take concrete steps to protect press freedom and prosecute those responsible for crimes against the press.