Gunmen attack director of Mexican daily

New York, January 28, 2008—Mexican journalist Octavio Soto Torres, known for his harsh criticism of local authorities, was shot at by four masked gunmen on Wednesday night while driving in the city of Pánuco, Veracruz state. Soto and his son, 16, who was also in the car, were not shot, but Soto was injured as the two fled.

At around 9.30 p.m., Soto, director of the daily Voces de Veracruz, was driving his car to cover a highway accident between the cities of Pánuco and El Molino. Soto noticed that a van was following them, he told CPJ. A few miles later, the van pulled out in front of the car and three masked gunmen got out and aimed their guns at him.

When the journalist did not pull over, the gunmen began firing. The assailants then followed Soto in a wild chase that ended a few minutes later when he was forced to stop because his tires had been shot. Soto and his son, who called the police repeatedly, hid in the bushes at the side of the highway. Soto was injured in the head by tree branches as he leapt from his car. His son escaped unharmed, he told CPJ. Police arrived a few minutes later after the gunmen fled the scene. 

“We urge state and federal authorities to conduct an exhaustive and timely investigation into the attack on Octavio Soto Torres,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Assaults on journalists can no longer go unpunished. Reporters must be able to carry out their work without fear of intimidation or harm.”

Veracruz Governor Fidel Herrera Beltrán condemned the attack and instructed the state prosecutor to conduct a prompt investigation. The federal prosecutor tasked with investigating crimes against the press was also informed about the attack and was looking into it, sources told CPJ.

Voces de Veracruz is known for its criticism of local authorities. Soto said he believes the attack was related to his work. A few days earlier, the paper had run a critical piece on the elections in the association of sugarcane workers.

Mexico is one of the most dangerous places for journalists in Latin America, CPJ research shows. Three journalists and three media workers were murdered in 2007, while three reporters went missing. 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.