Severed head left outside newspaper in southeastern Mexico

New York, May 29, 2007—A local official’s severed head wrapped in newspaper was left Saturday morning outside the offices of a daily in southeastern Tabasco state, according to Mexican press reports.

Unidentified individuals parked two Grand Cherokee SUVs in front of the Villahermosa-based Tabasco Hoy, 465 miles (745 kilometers) east of Mexico City. An individual dressed in black stepped out of one of the vehicles and set down a cooler in front of the paper’s front door, Mexican press reports said

Summoned to the scene, police found a decapitated head inside the cooler. The head was later identified as that of Councilman Terencio Sastre of the nearby town of El Cedro. The councilman had been kidnapped on Thursday, the daily La Jornada reported.

Tabasco Hoy staffers have had reason to be concerned after fellow reporter Rodlfo Rincón Taracena went missing on January 20. On the day of his disappearance, Rincón had published an investigative article on local drug trafficking. The next day, the daily ran another article with Rincón’s byline on a local band of ATM muggers.

Today, CPJ renewed its call on President Calderón to make the protection of press freedom a priority for his administration. “Whatever the motivation for this act, it has a terribly chilling effect on Mexican journalists who are already facing intimidation and violence,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We urge the Mexican federal government to take decisive action to stop this wave of aggression and uphold Mexicans’ constitutional right to freedom of expression.”

Drug trafficking and organized crime have turned Mexico into one of the most hazardous places for journalists in Latin America, CPJ research shows. Since the war between powerful drug cartels intensified two years ago, scores of reporters have fallen silent because authorities are unable to provide even minimal protection.

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, including Rincón, have disappeared since 2005; three of them this year. On Thursday, the Hermosillo-based daily Cambio de Sonora suspended publication after two bomb attacks and repeated threats.

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.