Reporter killed in central Mexico

New York, December 10, 2007–Mexican reporter Gerardo Israel García Pimentel was assassinated on Saturday as he was entering the hotel where he lived in Uruapan, the second largest city in the central state of Michoacán. The Committee to Protect Journalists is investigating possible links between García’s death and his work as a journalist.

On Saturday afternoon, unidentified individuals chased García on his motorcycle through Uruapan, according local press reports. García sought refuge at the Hotel Ruán. As he entered the hotel, two gunmen shot him at close range at least 20 times, police told local reporters on Saturday evening. Police added that some 50 shell casings, nearly all from AR-15 semiautomatic rifles, were found at the scene. Michoacán state police have yet to announce possible motives for the murder. Calls to the federal special prosecutor for crimes against journalists were not immediately returned.

García, 28, worked for five years as a reporter for La Opinion de Michoacán, the largest daily newspaper in Uruapan. He covered agriculture and sometimes stepped in to report on crime, García’s colleagues told CPJ. Reporters at other newspapers in Michoacán told CPJ that García was considered a low-key reporter, not likely to aggressively pursue sensitive stories or those related to organized crime.

“We are saddened by the death of Gerardo Israel García Pimentel,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the authorities to conduct a speedy and thorough investigation into García’s murder and to bring all those responsible to justice. Journalists in Michoacán are under serious threat–it is time for the authorities to step up and provide protection so that reporters can do their work without fear.”

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 have been repeatedly threatened and killed.

Earlier this month in Michoacán, two police chiefs were killed, along with Sergio Gómez, the lead singer of the nationally known musical group K-Paz de la Sierra. In all, the state’s violent death toll is now at 339 for the year, according to a tally compiled by the national daily La Jornada. Michoacán is a key state for Mexico’s powerful Gulf and Sinaloa drug cartels, which routinely battle over drug shipment routes from South America to the United States. According to “A New Front in Mexico,” a special CPJ report released in November, journalists have died, gone missing or suffered beatings in the state for covering drug trafficking or violence linked to it.