Mexican journalist killed inside newsroom in Chihuahua

New York, September 25, 2009—Mexico must put an end to the pattern of impunity in journalists’ murders by prosecuting all those responsible for Wednesday’s brutal killing of Norberto Miranda Madrid, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Miranda, a harsh critic of local crime, was shot to death in his office in Nuevo Casas Grandes in northern Chihuahua State, according to local authorities.

Around 11 p.m., two unidentified men wearing ski masks burst into the offices of local Radio Visión, where Miranda and his brother José were working, local reporters told CPJ. The assailants shot Miranda repeatedly in the back of the neck, a spokesperson at the Chihuahua state prosecutor’s office, Julio César Castañeda, told CPJ. News reports said he died at the scene. The journalist’s brother was unharmed.

Miranda, 44, known as “El Gallito” (The Tough Guy), wrote the Web column “Cotorreando con el Gallito and was a host on local Radio Visión. A reporter with 15 years of experience, Miranda was known locally for his straightforward approach to social issues, according the national daily El Universal. In his most recent columns, he criticized the lack of safety in Nuevo Casas Grandes and its surrounding areas. His last column, posted on Tuesday, detailed what he said was a string of 25 execution-style murders in the area this month. The journalist pointed to organized crime groups as the executioners.

Authorities told local reporters they are reviewing Miranda’s recent columns to find a possible motive.

“Norberto Miranda Madrid is the fifth journalists to be slain in Mexico in 2009, continuing a disturbingly murderous trend that has made Mexico one of the most dangerous places to be a journalist,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “Mexican authorities must bring and end to impunity in journalists’ slayings by bringing Miranda’s murderers to justice.”

According to CPJ’s annual survey, Attacks on the Press, 29 journalists have been killed, including Miranda, and at least 10 in direct reprisal for their work since 2000. Seven journalists have disappeared since 2005. Most covered organized crime or government corruption.

On May 25, unidentified assailants abducted crime reporter Eliseo Barrón Hernández from his home in Torreón in the state of Durango. His body was found the next day in an irrigation ditch. In June, the federal prosecutor’s office said one of five men detained by the Mexican army had confessed to Barrón’s murder and implicated the others. The alleged attacker, who officials say claimed to work for the Gulf cartel’s enforcement arm Los Zetas, allegedly told interrogators that Barrón had been killed in order to teach other journalists not to report on Los Zetas.

Three other journalists were killed in 2008. On January 12, photographer Jean Paul Ibarra Ramírez was shot to death in the town of Iguala in Guerrero. On May 3, reporter Carlos Ortega Samper was pulled out of his pickup truck in and shot dead in the mountains of Durango. On July 28, authorities found the body of Acapulco radio anchorman Juan Daniel Martínez Gil beaten and suffocated. CPJ continues to investigate these murders and whether they are connected to the three men’s work as journalists.

In 2008, the Chihuahua journalist Emilio Gutiérrez Soto took his 15-year-old son and fled his home in Ascensión, near Nuevo Casas Grandes, to the United States claiming he feared for his life. Gutiérrez, a correspondent for the El Diario del Noroeste of Nuevo Casas Grandes, said he had received threats from military personnel for his articles about alleged human rights abuses. He is currently awaiting political asylum in the United States.