Mexico restructures prosecution of press crimes

New York, July 9, 2010—Structural changes meant to broaden the authority of Mexico’s special prosecutor’s office to investigate crimes against journalists are still insufficient to address the grave free expression crisis in Mexico, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

The renamed special prosecutor’s office for crimes against freedom of expression will report directly to the attorney general and will have a mandate to broadly investigate crimes against freedom of expression, according to the announcement signed by Attorney General Arturo Chávez Chávez. The right to free expression is guaranteed by Articles 6 and 7 of the Mexican Constitution.

Gustavo Salas Chávez, who replaced Octavio Orellana Wiarco in February, will continue as prosecutor in the new office, local press reports said. Orellana was widely criticized by Mexican journalists, who said he was ineffective. The old office reported to the federal deputy prosecutor on human rights within the attorney general’s office, and its mandate was limited to the defense of journalists, not freedom of expression.

“While the decision to bolster the prosecutor’s capacity is a step in the right direction, the measure is inadequate to deal with the wave of record violence that is seriously restricting news coverage in Mexico,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ Americas program senior coordinator. “Congressional leaders must now act swiftly and approve a bill that will federalize crimes against freedom of expression and set a proper legal framework to protect this basic human right.”

While the changes have addressed long-time concerns of domestic and international press freedom groups, including CPJ, Mexican journalists and press freedom advocates told CPJ they believe the measure is insufficient to address the crisis affecting the Mexican media.

CPJ has been advocating for federal legislation to protect freedom of expression in Mexico, where more than 30 journalists have been killed and disappeared since President Felipe Calderón came to power. Murder is a state crime in Mexico, and the investigations have been handled by local prosecutors who are more vulnerable to corruption and intimidation.

The federal prosecutor’s office for crimes against the press was created in February 2006, with CPJ support, during the administration of President Vicente Fox. But the office has lacked legal jurisdiction to pursue most cases and the authority to take independent action, CPJ research has found.