In meeting with Mexican ambassador, CPJ urges action on press attacks

Washington, D.C., May 9, 2007—Mexico’s federal government must take concrete steps to protect press freedom and prosecute those responsible for crimes against the press, a delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a meeting Tuesday with the Mexican ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan Casamitjana.

Expressing concern about the wave of deadly attacks against the media, the CPJ delegation called on the Mexican government to strengthen the office of the special prosecutor for press crimes and to make protection of free expression a federal responsibility.

As the war between powerful drug cartels has intensified in the last three years, local journalists who report on organized crime and the drug trade in Mexico are facing grave risks. CPJ research shows that six journalists have been murdered in direct reprisal for their work since 2000. CPJ is still investigating the circumstances surrounding the slayings of 12 other journalists since then to determine if their deaths are work-related. Three journalists have also disappeared since 2005. Two of them were covering crime stories.

Though the battle between the cartels is particularly severe in northern states, violence has spread to almost every Mexican state in the last year.

Violence and fear have had a devastating effect on the press, as reporters who cover crime and drug trafficking have increasingly resorted to self-censorship. The wave of violence against the press is inhibiting journalists’ ability to report the news. Human rights abuses, drug trafficking, crime, corruption, and other issues that affect the daily lives of ordinary people are not being covered.

After a deadly attack against the daily El Mañana in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, the Mexican government recognized violence against the press as a national problem by creating a special prosecutor’s office to investigate crimes against the press in February 2006. Unfortunately, Mexico’s justice system has failed to bring an end to this cycle of violence and appears far from solving any of the recent murders.

In response, Sarukhan told the CPJ delegation: “We need to ensure that the office of the special prosecutor has teeth so it can entirely fulfill the mandate for which it was created.”

The delegation also expressed concern about the stalled investigation into the murder of U.S. journalist Brad Will, who was shot in October 2006 while covering clashes between protesters and local officials in Oaxaca. The CPJ delegation included board member Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune, CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon, and Senior Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría.

On April 9, CPJ sent a letter to President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa urging the federal government to put an end to the tide of deadly violence after the execution-style killing of veteran journalist Amado Ramírez Dillanes in Acapulco. CPJ called on Calderón to make protection of press freedom a hallmark of his administration by supporting legislation making it a crime to conspire against, through violence or other means, the right to free expression.

Sarukhan expressed a commitment to facilitate meetings with high-ranking government officials in Mexico City to further discuss press freedom conditions. “We look forward to continuing our discussions, and to working together with the Mexican government to put an end to the tide of violence against the press,” CPJ’s Simon said.