Journalist shot and wounded after corruption reports

August 6, 2007—Mexican journalist Alberto Fernández Portilla was shot and wounded early Sunday morning as he arrived at his home in Salina Cruz, a Pacific port city in the southern state of Oaxaca. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Mexican authorities to investigate the attack.

Fernández told CPJ that the shooting occurred around 1:50 a.m. as he returned alone from a dinner at a restaurant with colleagues. When he got to his house, an unidentified individual approached him and said, “Don’t mess with our leader.” The man then shot Fernández with a 9mm pistol five times, hitting his thigh, arm, and rib cage. Fernández remained in the hospital as of today.

“We call on state and federal authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into the attack on Fernández,” said CPJ executive director Joel Simon. “All those responsible must be found and brought to justice.”

Fernández is the news director at radio station XEKZ in Tehuantepec, a town close to Salina Cruz. He is also director of the Salina Cruz-based weekly El Semanario, and a political columnist for the Salina Cruz daily El Sol del Istmo, and the Juchitán daily El Sur. Salina Cruz is located about 186 miles (299 kilometers) east of Oaxaca City, the state capital.

In recent months, Fernández has reported extensively on corruption involving Mexico’s state-owned oil and gas monopoly Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) and its local union in Oaxaca. In late July, a reporter at El Seminario received a threatening phone call from an unidentified individual who said there “would be losses” for reporting on Pemex-related corruption, according to Fernández.

Maria del Carmen Chiñas, an assistant state attorney general in Oaxaca, told local reporters that authorities have opened several lines of investigation.

On Sunday, the state of Oaxaca held elections for state assembly representatives, its first poll since last year’s conflict that pitted leftist protesters against Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, whom they accused of rigging his 2004 election. For several months in 2006, protesters, many belonging to a leftist umbrella group called the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca, took over the state capital and demanded Ruiz’s resignation. Clashes regularly broke out between protesters and gunmen, many of whom were identified as state and municipal police in civilian dress. Several journalists covering the unrest were harassed by protesters and gunmen, CPJ research shows.

On October 27, Bradley Roland Will, a 36-year-old independent documentary filmmaker from Illinois and reporter for the New York-based news Web site Indymedia, was killed during a street battle between anti-government protesters and armed plainclothes men, many identified by witnesses as working for Ruiz. Will’s murder remains unsolved.

Anti-government street demonstrations have diminished this year, but tensions remain high. Leading up to the August 5 election, protesters urged voters not to support candidates from Ruiz’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. The old-guard party has held power in Oaxaca for more than 70 years. Ruiz’s term ends in 2010.