Journalists detained by Mexican army are released

New York, August 10, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release this afternoon of four Mexican journalists who had been detained on Tuesday night by the army while covering a drug raid. Charges of possession of a firearm and marijuana are still pending against them. The reporters told their lawyer that the weapon and drugs were planted and that the soldiers had beaten them.

“The allegation that soldiers abused these reporters and planted evidence is extremely disturbing,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We urge authorities to investigate the soldiers involved in this incident.”

At 12:30 p.m. today, Mexican reporters Manolo Acosta and Sinhué Samaniego Osoria from the Monclova-based daily Zócalo; Jesús Meza González from the Monclova daily La Voz de Coahuila; and Alberto Rodríguez Reyes from the local television station Canal 4, were released on bail, their lawyer Luis Humberto Rodríguez Saenz told CPJ. The journalists had been held since Tuesday night by Mexican authorities in the northern state of Coahuila. The charges against them are still pending, an official at the office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against the Press told CPJ.

The four journalists said they were detained around 10 p.m. Tuesday by soldiers from the Mexican army while covering a routine drug raid, said Rodríguez. Armed soldiers asked the reporters to step out of their vehicles and into the back of a pick-up truck. According to the reporters’ account, they were driven around the city facing down with their faces covered, while soldiers kicked them in the chest and stomach. The soldiers repeatedly asked the journalists if they were members of the illegal paramilitary group Los Zetas, who allegedly employ spotters to monitor the movements of the military.

The four journalists were carrying vests with the name of their media outlets, and the three vehicles they were traveling in were visibly identified with press logos, Rodríguez told CPJ.

At 2 p.m. on Wednesday, the reporters were transferred into the custody of the attorney general’s office in Coahuila, where they were charged with possession of a firearm and marijuana, Rodríguez told CPJ.

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.