Mexican crime reporter abducted, slain in Durango

New York, November 3, 2009—Crime reporter Bladimir Antuna García was found murdered Monday night, according local news reports, after reportedly being abducted from a street in the Mexican city of Durango that morning. The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Mexican authorities to show their commitment to press freedom and the protection of Mexican journalists by immediately bringing all those responsible to justice.

Antuna, 39, a reporter for the daily El Tiempo de Durango, was on his way to work Monday morning when, according to witnesses cited by the local press, his car was boxed in by two other vehicles in Durango, 558 miles (899 kilometers) northeast of Mexico City. Armed men got out of a Jeep Cherokee, and dragged Antuna from his car into theirs before speeding away. The reporter was immediately reported missing.

Local authorities found the reporter’s body that evening not far from where he was abducted. Next to the body was a note stating: “This happened to me for giving information to soldiers and for writing too much,” according to national daily La Jornada. Local investigators told reporters that Antuna appeared to have been strangled, and there were no noticeable signs of bullet wounds.

“Bladimir Antuna García’s killing is yet another brutal reminder of the very precarious and dangerous situation in which Mexican reporters, especially those covering crime and corruption, work,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “Mexican authorities must immediately investigate Antuna’s death, and bring all the perpetrators to justice in an effort to prove their commitment to press freedom and journalist safety.”

Victor Garza, editor of El Tiempo de Durango, told CPJ that in the week before his death Antuna had broken a story on corruption in the Durango City Police. Antuna had also investigated the murder of fellow El Tiempo de Durango reporter Carlos Ortega Samper, who was kidnapped on April 3 in a similar manner and then shot to death, though Antuna had not yet published a story, colleagues in Durango said. Ortega reported on local corruption. His murder remains unsolved, and CPJ continues to investigate whether Ortega’s death was linked to his work as a journalist.

Antuna’s colleagues said he had received at least three death threats in recent months. The most recent, they told CPJ, was a telephone threat from an unidentified individual who told the reporter that he would get no further warnings. Antuna did not say why he was being threatened. In April, armed men approached the reporter’s home at night but did not open fire, a colleague said. Antuna filed a complaint with local authorities for unspecified problems, the Spanish newswire EFE reported.

The local press freedom group Center for Journalism and Public Ethics said today that Antuna had told the organization last June that he had been in contact with another Durango journalist who was murdered in May, Eliseo Barrón Hernández. The center said Antuna told them he and Barrón had been exchanging information about police corruption and organized crime in the state.

In late October, the newly elected Mexican Chamber of Deputies decided not to renew the mandate of a special congressional committee on violence against the press, which had been appointed in 2006. CPJ called on Mexico’s Congress to show its full commitment to a free press by granting federal authorities jurisdiction over crimes against freedom of expression, a reform still pending in the legislature.

According to CPJ’s research, 39 journalists, including Antuna, have been killed since 1992. At least 17 were slain in direct reprisal for their work. Seven journalists have disappeared since 2005. Most covered organized crime or government corruption.

On May 25, Barrón Hernández, crime reporter for the dailies La Opinion and Milenio, was abducted from his home and shot to death. Federal prosecutors charged five men in June with Barrón’s murder. The head of the drug cartel Los Zetas allegedly ordered the reporter’s killing “in order to teach a lesson to other local journalists so that they wouldn’t meddle in the work of the delinquent group,” the Mexican federal prosecutor’s office said, according to local news reports. Four other reporters have been killed this year in Mexico. CPJ continues to investigate whether their deaths were linked to their work.