Mexican journalist who covered police is abducted and killed

New York, May 26, 2009–Authorities found the body of a journalist who covered the police beat in northern Mexico this morning after he was abducted from his house on Monday night, according to Mexican news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists called on local and federal authorities today to conduct a thorough investigation and bring those responsible to justice. 

Authorities found the body of Eliseo Barrón Hernández, left, a reporter and photographer for the Torreón-based daily La Opinión, in the city of Gómez Palacio, Durango, where he lived, reported the national daily Milenio. The Durango state deputy attorney general, Noel Díaz, told reporters that Barrón’s body was found with a gunshot wound to his head in an irrigation ditch, according to The Associated Press.

At around 8 p.m. on Monday, at least eight hooded gunmen entered Barrón’s home, beat the reporter and forced him out of the house and into a white Nissan Tsuru that was parked outside, his wife told local reporters. He was not heard from again.

Barrón, 35, had covered the police beat for 10 years for La Opinión, which is based out of neighboring Coahuila state, according to the national daily El Universal. In the days prior to his kidnapping, the journalist had covered a corruption scandal in the Torreón police that had resulted in the firing of 302 police officers and the investigation of at least 20 others, according to Milenio.

Local authorities have not make public any leads about their investigation or reasons behind Barrón’s abduction and murder. Federal authorities have taken over the case, Milenio reported, although it is not clear why the investigation has been transferred.

“We condemn the vicious slaying of Eliseo Barrón Hernández, and extend our condolences to his family and friends,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “We urge Mexican investigators to take a thorough look into Barrón’s reporting on crime and corruption, find those responsible for his murder and bring them to justice. Journalists must be able to report on issues that affect the daily lives of Mexican citizens. The health of Mexico’s democracy depends on the media’s ability to report the news freely.”   

In the afternoon of May 3, four unidentified individuals pulled Carlos Ortega Samper, a reporter for the Durango City-based daily El Tiempo de Durango, out of his car and shot him dead as he was driving home in the town of Santa María El Oro. In an article published the day prior to the attack, Ortega alleged that local officials had threatened him in connection with recent reporting and investigations. Authorities are still investigating Ortega’s killing and have not publicly discussed their inquiry.

According to CPJ’s annual survey, Attacks on the Press, Mexico is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. Since 2000, 27 journalists have been killed, including Barrón. At least eight have been killed in direct reprisal for their work. In addition, seven journalists have disappeared since 2005. Most covered organized crime or government corruption.

CPJ research has found that local and state authorities in Mexico have been ineffective in solving press-related cases and, in some instances, have been complicit in the crimes. In June 2008, a CPJ delegation met with President Felipe Calderón, who expressed support for federal legislation protecting free expression. In April, the Mexican Chamber of Deputies approved a measure imposing penalties for crimes against “journalistic activity.” The bill has stalled in the Senate.

“The relentless killing of journalists in Mexico has become a direct threat not only to press freedom but to the viability of the country’s institutions,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “The legislature must take action to protect the basic rights of Mexican citizens.”