Mexican journalist in coma after attack by former official

José Luis Ortega Vidal, 42, editorial director of the daily Notisur in the eastern Mexican state of Veracruz was severely injured after falling off a staircase on the morning of March 3, 2009. He was attempting to flee from a former official who was threatening him and other journalists with a gun, according to witnesses quoted in local news reports. Ortega was put in an induced coma as a result of severe brain injuries, according to news reports.

Ortega and several other local journalists were at a restaurant in Coatzacoalcos, 267 miles (430 kilometers) from the state capital of Xalapa, when they were approached by former city official Alejandro Wong Ramos, according to witnesses and police reports reviewed by the Veracruz State Commission for the Defense of Journalists. One of the witnesses, journalist José Luis Pérez Cruz, told CPJ that Wong was clearly drunk and trying to initiate a fight with the group over negative news coverage he had received from a reporter who was not present.

Pérez and the restaurant owner told CPJ that Wong insulted the journalists, threw chairs at them, and asked his assistant for a pistol. After the assistant handed Wong the gun, the group of journalists scattered. Wong chased Ortega out a back door, where the journalist fell some 20 feet (6 meters) from a staircase.

The journalist was immediately taken to a local hospital. Veracruz Governor Fidel Herrera Beltrán ordered that Ortega be transported in a state airplane from Coatzacoalcos to a regional hospital in Xalapa, where he was being treated for brain injuries.

An arrest warrant was issued for Wong, but more than three weeks after the incident, authorities told CPJ that they had not yet located him. Local journalists told CPJ that they believe the former official is being protected by local political figures. Wong, the journalists said, had a history of being physically abusive to reporters and relying on his political connections for protection. CPJ could not locate Wong or any representative for comment.

Journalists in Coatzacoalcos demonstrated on March 11 to pressure local officials to have Wong arrested. Authorities told local reporters that the government would do everything in its power to see that the law was carried out in this case.