Journalist’s decapitated body found in Mexico

New York, September 26, 2011–The decapitated body of Mexican journalist Maria Elizabeth Macías Castro was found on a road near the city of Nuevo Laredo on Saturday, news reports said.

The news editor of local daily Primera Hora, Macías Castro, 39, wrote negatively about criminal groups and minor corruption or mismanagement in city affairs, journalists told CPJ. A note found with her body said she had been killed for writing on social media websites and attributed the murder to a criminal group, news reports said.

“We condemn the brutal killing of Maria Elizabeth Macías Castro and call on the federal government to conduct a thorough investigation to bring all those responsible to justice,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s Americas senior program coordinator. “This wave of unprecedented violence is endangering the constitutional rights of all Mexicans to freedom of expression and access to information.”  

Sources told CPJ that Macías Castro posted on Twitter and wrote under the pseudonym “La NenaDLaredo” (The girl from Laredo) on the website Nuevo Laredo en vivo (Nuevo Laredo Live). It is not known whether there was a particular story, or her uncensored reporting in general, that angered the journalist’s killers. It is also not known how they discovered her identity.

In areas like northern Mexico where organized crime groups have terrorized the local press into silence, citizens have begun reporting on websites and social media, using false names and trying to stay anonymous. But even professional journalists told CPJ that they sometimes secretly report stories on social media websites that they wouldn’t cover under their own name through their traditional outlets. Facebook, Twitter, and other such websites are filling the void of coverage of issues such as drug violence, CPJ research showed.

Reflecting this new reality, criminal groups have turned to targeting web and social media users in recent weeks. On September 13, the bodies of two young people, who were not identified, were hung from a pedestrian overpass in Nuevo Laredo. Press accounts said notes left with the bodies warned against writing on websites.

“As Mexican citizens, including journalists and media, are increasingly turning to new technology in the face of rampant censorship, drug cartels are susing violence to control information on the Internet,” said Lauría. “The stability of Mexico’s democracy will ultimately depend on the restoration of the media’s ability to report the news without fear of reprisal.” 

Drug-related violence now makes Mexico one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the press, according to CPJ research. Seven journalists, including Macías Castro, have been killed this year alone, at least one in direct reprisal for their work. CPJ is investigating whether the other six deaths were related to the journalists’ work.