Veracruz officials say abducted journalist found dead

Mexico City, January 29, 2015–The decapitated body of Mexican journalist José Moisés Sánchez Cerezo was found early Saturday in Veracruz state, according to a statement from the state attorney general’s office. The journalist and owner of the newspaper La Unión had been missing since January 2.

On Tuesday night, the attorney general’s office said DNA results showed the victim was Sánchez. But the journalist’s son, Jorge Sánchez, told CPJ today that he would wait for DNA tests from the federal attorney general’s office because he doubted that the body was really his father’s. “We don’t trust the local authorities here,” Jorge Sánchez said. “There have been irregularities. With the body, I don’t agree that it’s him.”

Local civil society groups have also called on the special prosecutor for crimes against freedom of expression to investigate the case, citing doubts about “the transparency and fairness” of the state authorities, according to news reports.

“In a state with a deplorable record of violence against the press, and given allegations of local political and police involvement, it is doubtful that local authorities can be trusted to achieve justice for the murder of José Moisés Sánchez Cerezo,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, from New York. “Federal authorities have the power to take jurisdiction of this case. They should do so immediately.”

Sánchez was kidnapped from his home in the municipality of Medellín de Bravo on January 2 and his computer, camera, and other electronic materials were seized, according to news reports. The journalist had founded La Unión, a small weekly print and online newspaper that often criticized city authorities, particularly the mayor, Omar Cruz Reyes, and denounced local criminal activity as well as the poor quality of basic services like garbage pickup and the absence of street lights.

The state attorney general told MVS Radio on Monday that he had evidence pointing toward the mayor. “I have elements for having the probable certainty of the mayor’s participation,” Veracruz state attorney general Luis Ángel Bravo said.

The state attorney general’s office said a former Veracruz police officer turned drug trafficker, Noé Rodríguez, confessed to carrying out the abduction and murder, along with five other suspects. The suspects allegedly acted on the orders of the deputy police chief of Medellín, Martín López Meneses, who was also the driver and bodyguard of Mayor Cruz, according to the attorney general’s office’s statement. López was being held in preventive detention.

Rodríguez alleged that Cruz requested he and the other suspects kill Sánchez, according to news reports. In exchange, the reports said, Cruz would allow the criminal gang to deal drugs in the area. Cruz has denied involvement in the crime and maintained that he had no disagreements with Sánchez, according to news reports.

Cruz cannot be officially charged because he is granted immunity from prosecution as an elected official, according to news reports. Prosecutors have asked the state legislature to strip the mayor of his immunity.

In the days before Sánchez was kidnapped, he posted on Facebook several photographs of protests against the governor, Javier Duarte de Ochoa, as well as links to articles about a recent murder. On December 13 and 14, he posted several articles, press releases, and a video regarding the formation of a neighborhood watch self-defense group in response to local crime. It wasn’t clear whether Sánchez, who was also active in the group, was the author of any of the materials posted on Facebook.

A local journalist who asked to remain anonymous told CPJ that information about self-defense groups was particularly sensitive for local officials who sought to downplay shortcomings in local law enforcement. Jorge Sánchez told CPJ that his father had been threatened by the mayor in connection with his coverage of the groups.

In the days after the kidnapping, Governor Duarte referred to Sánchez as an “activist and taxi driver,” which drew complaints from local journalists that the governor was trying to minimize Sánchez’s work as journalist.

Veracruz is one of the most dangerous states in Mexico for the press. Sánchez would be the fourth journalist to be killed in Veracruz in direct relation to his work since 2011, according to CPJ research. CPJ is investigating the deaths of at least six others in unclear circumstances. At least three journalists have disappeared in the state in the same time period. In the past, Governor Duarte’s government has sought to dismiss any possible link between journalists’ murders and their profession.

Violence tied to drug trafficking has made Mexico one of the most dangerous countries in the world for the press, according to CPJ research. More than 50 journalists have been killed or have disappeared since 2007. The country was ranked seventh on CPJ’s 2014 Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are slain and the killers go free.