Drug trafficker confesses to killing missing Mexican reporter

New York, June 1, 2011–A drug gang leader confessed on Sunday to killing Mexican reporter Noel López Olguín, a columnist for a small newspaper in the state of Veracruz who went missing in March, according to local press reports. Gustavo Salas, the Mexican federal attorney general’s special prosecutor for crimes against freedom of expression, told CPJ on Tuesday that his office is taking up the case.

Late Sunday, the Mexican army arrested an alleged midlevel organized crime leader who admitted to killing López, according to press reports in Coatzacoalcos, a city in Veracruz. López, a columnist for the small newspaper La Verdad de Jáltipan, was kidnapped on March 8 by gunmen in two SUVs, local authorities told CPJ.

News accounts on Monday said that the confessed killer, Alejandro Castro Chirinos, 36, also admitted to killing four police officers. The stories gave no motives for any of the murders. A Cannon camera belonging to the journalist was recovered during the arrest, the press reported.

Journalists who cover the state say that the Zeta crime organization is strong in the area around Jáltipan and the police are either not capable of fighting the criminals or are working for them. The head of the state Commission for the Defense of Journalists, Gerardo Perdomo, said López wrote stories and columns that sharply criticized local corruption.

“We call on the federal authorities in Mexico to follow up on reported revelations by the alleged killer and to thoroughly investigate the disappearance of Noel López Olguín,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s Americas senior program coordinator.

López’s wife, María, and his two brothers told CPJ that he had a long career working as a columnist for La Verdad de Jáltipan, and also as a stringer and photographer for several papers in the state of Veracruz, including the weeklies Noticias de Acayucan and Horizonte. Editors or owners of those papers, however, seemed eager to keep a distance between themselves and López. They told CPJ that he had worked for them years ago, or a couple of times last year, or not at all. Colleagues at La Verdad de Jáltipan denied that López had ever worked for the newspaper or that they had ever heard of him.

Fear of retaliation kept them silent, according to an official with the state commission who asked to remain anonymous. Local news reports said that the father and son who own the paper in Jáltipan were abducted and held by gunmen for several hours last February.

Drug-related violence now makes Mexico one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the press, according to CPJ research. Eleven journalists have been killed since 2010, at least three in direct reprisal for their work. CPJ is investigating to determine whether the other eight deaths were related to the journalists’ work.