Journalist flees Ciudad Juárez following death threats

New York, November 20, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Mexican authorities today to protect journalists in the border town of Ciudad Juárez after one journalist was forced to flee and another was murdered. 

Mexican journalist Jorge Luis Aguirre was forced to flee his home in Ciudad Juárez following a death threat on the day another crime reporter was gunned down, the journalist told CPJ.

On the afternoon of November 13, Aguirre, director of the political and crime news Web site La Polaka, was walking to the funeral for his colleague Armando Rodríguez, who was shot to death earlier that day, when he received an anonymous call to his cellular phone warning him that he was “next in line,” he said. According to Mexican press reports, Aguirre immediately left the city with his family for El Paso, Texas. The reporter told CPJ that he has continued to receive death threats via e-mail since leaving Mexico. One of the messages, reviewed by CPJ, warns Aguirre that he is the next target and that he will be tracked down. Aguirre remains in the United States, where he has requested political asylum.

“At this of all times, people in Ciudad Juárez should be able to be informed about what crime is doing to their city and their lives,” said CPJ’s Senior Americas Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría. “Local and federal authorities must do everything in their power to ensure that all journalists in Ciudad Juárez can continue working without fear of reprisal.”

Since Rodríguez, a 40-year-old crime reporter for El Diario, was gunned down outside his home, fearful crime reporters in Ciudad Juárez have begun wearing bulletproof vests as a precautionary measure, reported the local daily El Diario. According to the daily, the vests are marked with the word “press.” Authorities have not arrested anyone in connection to Rodríguez’s killing.

More than 1,000 people have been killed in drug-related crimes in Ciudad Juárez, a border city across from El Paso, this year, according to international and local news reports. Local reporters said police officers, doctors, lawyers, and drug kingpins have been executed this year. On November 6, unidentified individuals left a decapitated head in the city’s Journalists’ Square, according to local news reports.

Powerful drug cartels and escalating violence associated with criminal groups have made Mexico one of the deadliest countries for reporters worldwide. Since 2000, 24 journalists have been killed, at least seven in direct reprisal for their work. In addition, seven journalists have disappeared since 2005.