Three media workers murdered in Mexican state of Oaxaca

New York, October 9, 2007—Three media workers for the Oaxaca-based daily El Imparcial del Istmo were shot and killed on Monday afternoon while driving in the southern state of Oaxaca in a vehicle bearing the paper’s logo. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the attack today and called on Mexican authorities to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation.

At 1:15 p.m., an Equinox SUV with tinted windows chased and then blocked an El Imparcial del Istmo truck along a highway connecting the cities of Salina Cruz and Tehuantepec, according to Mexican press reports. According to El Imparcial del Istmo, unidentified individuals got out of the car, and shot the van’s driver Mateo Cortés Martínez and delivery workers Agustín López Nolasco and Flor Vásquez López at close range.

According to Mexican press reports, El Imparcial del Istmo’s Regional Director Gonzalo Domínguez received an anonymous telephone call later that afternoon stating he was “next.” Luis David Quintana, the daily’s deputy director, told local reporters that the newspaper had received several threatening e-mail messages and letters in the last month warning that the paper should tone down its coverage of local drug trafficking gangs.

“We offer our deepest condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of Mateo Cortés Martínez, Agustín López Nolasco, and Flor Vásquez López,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We condemn this brutal attack, and urge local and federal authorities to conduct a speedy and thorough investigation and to bring all those responsible to justice.”

In the last year, reporters and media outlets in the state of Oaxaca have been attacked in retaliation for their critical reporting, CPJ research shows. On August 5, an unidentified assailant shot and wounded journalist Alberto Fernández Portilla outside his home in Salina Cruz and warned him not to “mess with our leader.” Fernández had reported extensively on corruption involving Mexico’s state-owned oil and gas monopoly Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) and its local union in Oaxaca.

On October 27, 2006, Bradley Roland Will, a 36-year-old documentary filmmaker from Illinois, was killed during a street battle in the provincial capital of Oaxaca between anti-government protesters and armed plainclothes men, many identified by witnesses as working for the local government. Will’s killing remains unsolved.

Mexico is one of the most dangerous places for journalists in Latin America, CPJ research shows. Drug trafficking and organized crime have both become greater problems there in the last couple of years, and reporters who cover these dangerous stories are threatened and killed.