Michoacán editor gunned down

New York, October 14, 2008–Mexican editor and publisher Miguel Angel Villagómez Valle was executed hours after being kidnapped on Thursday in the state of Michoacán. His body was found on Friday in neighboring Guerrero state. The Committee to Protect Journalists is investigating possible links between Villagómez’s death and his work as a journalist.

Villagómez, 29, was the editor and founder of the daily newspaper La Noticia de Michoacán, based in Lázaro Cárdenas, a port city on the southern Pacific coast of Michoacán. The paper is a small regional tabloid that regularly covers crime and politics, along with sports and culture.

Villagómez’s relatives and colleagues told CPJ that they were uncertain about the motive for the killing. However, they added that about one month before his death, Villagómez mentioned receiving a threatening call on his cell phone. He told them the caller belonged to the Zetas, former soldiers who worked for the powerful Gulf drug cartel. He warned his family to be alert, his wife, Irania Iveth Leyva Faustino, told CPJ.

“We mourn the death of our colleague Miguel Angel Villagómez and urge state and federal authorities to investigate this crime and bring all those responsible to justice,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s Senior Program Coordinator for the Americas. “We call on the government of President Felipe Calderón and congressional leaders to promptly address this murder as part of a wave of unprecedented violence against the Mexican media by developing legislation that federalizes crimes against free expression and freedom of the press.”

Villagómez went missing at about 10:30 p.m on Thursday after leaving the newspaper’s offices to drop two colleagues off at their homes, according to CPJ interviews with local law enforcement authorities and Villagómez’s colleagues and wife. They said that he had been expected back in the office but never returned. State police found the journalist’s bruised and gunshot-riddled body at approximately 6 a.m. the following day in a garbage dump near a coastal highway in Guerrero, about 31 miles (50 kilometers) from Lázaro Cárdenas, where the journalist lived. His car is still missing. State police have not announced any murder suspects or investigative leads. Villagómez is survived by his wife and three young children.

Powerful drug cartels and escalating violence associated with criminal groups have made Mexico one of the world’s deadliest for reporters. Since 2000, 23–including Villagómez– journalists have been killed, at least seven in direct reprisal for their work. Seven journalists have disappeared since 2005.

According to “A New Front in Mexico,” a special 2007 CPJ report, journalists have died, gone missing or suffered beatings in the state of Michoacán for covering drug trafficking or violence linked to it.