Mexican federal police harass, detain reporters

New York, May 7, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists is greatly concerned by allegations that federal police agents assaulted three reporters working in Culiacán, the capital of the northern Mexican state of Sinaloa.

At approximately 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, three reporters working for the newspaper El Debate went to report on a roadside checkpoint being mounted by federal police agents about one block from the newspaper’s offices. As the reporters began to take photos and notes, the federal agents became agitated and began to push and kick the reporters, ordering them to stop their work, Rosario Oropoza, El Debate’s managing editor, told CPJ. The agents also allegedly raised their high-powered rifles. Two of the reporters, Leo Espinoza and Geovanny Elizalde, fled the scene and managed to run back to the newspaper. Approximately six agents reportedly ran after them.

A third reporter, Torivio Bueno, also fled but was caught by agents and forced into one of the agents’ Ford pick-up trucks and taken on a 10-minute drive through Culiacán, Bueno told CPJ. Bueno, a 30-year-old crime reporter, said he was handcuffed, placed face down in the extended cab of the pick-up truck and kicked repeatedly. At least one agent, Bueno told CPJ, pointed a rifle at him and threatened to shoot. Eventually, the reporter was let out of the car, about 10 blocks from the newspaper’s offices. The agents never identified themselves to Bueno, he said.

Federal agents remained outside of the newspaper’s office for at least 40 minutes, El Debate’s staff told CPJ. They left when journalists from other media outlets began to arrive and report on the incident.

An operator at the office of the federal police in Sinaloa told CPJ that no one was available to comment when contacted on Wednesday evening.

“We are outraged by the purported attacks against El Debate’s reporters and deeply troubled by Torivio Bueno’s detention and the alleged abuses he suffered while in custody of federal agents,” said Carlos Lauría, senior program coordinator for CPJ’s Americas Program. “Mexican authorities must conduct a thorough investigation of the incident.”

The newspaper has denounced the assault to the state’s human rights commission and to federal law enforcement offices. Oropoza told CPJ that a spokesperson for the federal police called him and said that the incident was an error and that the agents were agitated about the death of several colleagues over the past weekend.

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.