Mexican crime reporter, abducted in Sinaloa, still missing

New York, January 4, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on state and federal authorities to step up their investigation into the abduction of a veteran police reporter who was seized by masked men in Sinaloa state on Wednesday. The reporter, José Luis Romero, remained missing today.

Romero, who worked for the private radio network Línea Directa, had gone to a restaurant in downtown Los Mochis about 6 p.m., according to local press accounts. Before he entered, reports said, several gunmen in ski masks overpowered him and forced him into an SUV.

The chief of police investigators in the state, Jesús Escalante Leyva, who was overseeing the inquiry into Romero’s abduction, was himself killed about six hours later, Mexican press reports said. The state attorney general told reporters that the two cases might be connected, according to press reports. Escalante was shot about 30 times within about 150 feet of his office, the reports said.

Línea Directa issued a statement saying that managers believed Romero’s abduction was in reprisal for his work as a reporter. State authorities are looking into the case but told CPJ that they had no leads yet.

“We are very worried about the fate of José Luis Romero,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ senior program coordinator for the Americas. “We call on state and federal authorities to do all in their power to locate Romero and bring him to safety.”

Romero is the second Mexican journalist to disappear in the last two months. María Esther Aguilar Cansimbe was abducted in Zamora, Michoacán state, in November. Romero is the ninth Mexican reporter to have gone missing since 2005, according to CPJ research. “The alarming record of disappearances is affecting reporters’ ability to cover the news and represents another blow to Mexican democracy,” Lauría added.

Mexico is one of the most dangerous places for the press. CPJ research shows that 41 journalists have been killed in Mexico, at least 18 in direct reprisal for their work, since 1992. Covering crime news is especially risky. In many areas, drug cartels routinely threaten journalists unless news coverage is tailored to their liking. In areas where there is war between cartels, journalists are caught between the conflicting demands of opposing traffickers.

Romero was considered well-versed on the dug trade but very cautious about what he said on the air, colleagues told CPJ. They told CPJ that Romero had covered the crime beat for about 20 years for several news organizations. Several journalists in Los Mochis told CPJ that they are afraid to conduct in-depth reporting on anything concerning the drug cartels.