Mexican reporter forced to flee after death threat; paper curbs crime coverage 

New York, February 6, 2008—A Mexican crime reporter was forced to flee the northern state of Chihuahua after receiving a death threat from an alleged criminal organization. The threat has prompted the daily Norte de Ciudad Juárez to curb its coverage on crime, Editor Alfredo Quijano told CPJ.

On January 25, reporter Carlos Huerta Muñoz, who covers crime locally for Norte de Ciudad Juárez, received an anonymous death threat on his cell phone, said Quijano. The caller, who identified himself as a member of an alleged criminal organization called La Federación, told Huerta that he will “stop breathing,” and also threatened his family, the paper’s editor told CPJ.

“This pattern of intimidation against Mexican journalists must come to an end,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Clearly, reporters fearing for their lives are censoring themselves, which allows these criminals to get exactly what they want. We call on Mexican state and federal authorities to provide enough safety guarantees so that journalists can report the news freely and without fear of violence.”

The paper filed a complaint with the state prosecutor’s office, and authorities offered two federal agents to protect Huerta. But after consulting with the journalist, Norte de Ciudad de Juárez decided to refuse the offer; Huerta said he didn’t trust that the agents could sufficiently protect him. Fearing for his life, he temporarily fled Mexico last week.

The publication has decided to limit its crime coverage since the threat, said Quijano. “We will only publish the facts and official information,” he said. The editor said the paper will not endanger the life of its reporters.

Quijano said the threat against Huerta came in the wake of a wave of drug-related violence in Ciudad Juárez. At least 10 police officers have been killed in 2008, according to Quijano.

As drug trafficking and organized crime have both become greater problems in the last couple of years, Mexican reporters who cover these dangerous stories are threatened and killed, CPJ research found. As authorities have failed to bring perpetrators of violence against journalists to justice, scores of reporters and media outlets are indulging in self-censorship. Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries for the press, according to CPJ’s annual report, Attacks on the Press.