Mexican army detains four reporters covering a drug raid

New York, August 9, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists today expressed deep skepticism about drug and weapons charges leveled against four reporters in northern Mexico covering a drug raid. The reporters were detained Tuesday by the Mexican army while they were covering a routine drug raid in the northern state of Coahuila. They have been charged with possession of a firearm and marijuana, but say they are innocent.

The reporters in custody are Mexican crime 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, Zócalo’s editor Sergio Cisneros told CPJ. Cisneros said he believes the charges are false and that the reporters believe the drugs and weapon were planted on them.

The Mexican press reported that an unidentified soldier asked the journalists to pull over after they took his picture. When the soldier searched the reporters, he allegedly found a firearm and marijuana, reported the Mexico City-based daily La Jornada. According to Cisneros, at the time of their arrest, the reporters were traveling in three separate vehicles, two of which were visibly identified with press logos.

All four were transferred into the custody of the attorney general’s office in Coahuila on Wednesday, the office told CPJ. It is not yet clear, however, who is being charged with what crime, or whether the weapon and drugs were found on one or several of the men.

“We are deeply troubled by inconsistencies in the account and are highly skeptical that journalists following the army on a drug raid would engage in this kind of behavior,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “In pursuing their investigation, we urge Mexican authorities to keep in mind the common practice of planting incriminating evidence. The conduct of the soldiers involved in this incident should be scrutinized.”

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.