Mexican editor flees after gunmen abduct and beat him

Mexico City, February 6, 2015–The editor of a Mexican daily in Matamoros has fled the city after gunmen abducted him from his office on Wednesday and beat him, prompting the paper to say it will stop covering violence. The abduction came after the newspaper published stories and photos on drug cartel violence near the U.S.-Mexico border, according to news reports.

Enrique Juárez Torres, editor of the privately owned daily El Mañana in Matamoros, was abducted at about 4 p.m. on the same day the paper published the front-page headline, “Confrontations: Nine Dead.” Three gunmen stormed the building and headed for his office, sister newspaper El Mañana in Reynosa reported. (No news of the abduction appeared in papers in Matamoros.)

Juárez tried to defend himself with a knife but was forced into a gray van, hit in the head and stomach, and threatened with death, according to the story by El Mañana in Reynosa. His captors dumped him outside the newspaper offices a short time later. After the attack Juárez fled Matamoros, according to news reports.

“We condemn the abduction of Enrique Juárez Torres and call on federal authorities to immediately investigate the case and prosecute those responsible,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, from New York. “It is outrageous that the Mexican drug cartels dictate what the media can or cannot publish. Mexican citizens are being deprived of vital information that is affecting their daily lives.”

Hildebrando Deandar, general director of the El Mañana publishing group, said that the newspaper in Matamoros will stop publishing news on violence, according to press reports. He said at least four journalists resigned from the paper because of the attack, the reports said.

A truck carrying copies of the Wednesday edition of El Mañana in Matamaros was also hijacked on the Matamoros-Reynosa highway and abandoned, the press said.

“What they did to me was a warning,” Juárez told The Associated Press. “It is a warning to all of us who work there, those who are physically in Matamoros and those who are not in Matamoros.”

His abduction demonstrated the dangers of covering drug cartels in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, where criminal groups have been involved in turf wars for the past decade. Matamoros publications normally stay silent on drug cartels or anything that might make them angry–a policy challenged by El Mañana in Matamoros in the midst of cartel clashes that started Sunday and have claimed at least 15 lives, according to press reports. Juárez said the decision to publish cartel news was due to the seriousness of the situation, the AP reported.

Media outlets often practice self-censorship and follow “unwritten rules” in order to survive, a journalist in Tamaulipas, who asked to remain anonymous for security concerns, told CPJ. “We know well what we have to publish and what we do not have to publish,” said the journalist, who holds a senior position.

The journalist spoke of an environment in which the cartels wield control over what is published and “no one protects us.” He added: “These are the conditions under which we work.”

The most recent unrest is blamed on a schism in the Gulf Cartel as rival factions fight over territory around Matamoros, which neighbors Brownsville, Texas. The U.S. Consulate in Matamoros told employees this week to restrict travel because of escalating violence.

In the absence of mainstream media coverage, Twitter users post tweets on shootouts and safety issues along the Tamaulipas border. Dr. María del Rosario Fuentes Rubio, a physician who tweeted in Reynosa with the handle @Miut3, was kidnapped and presumably killed in October, according to news reports. Photos of a bloodied body were posted on her Twitter account, along with a warning to others to stop spreading news through social media sites, reports said. Some Twitter users, who sent out information with the hashtag #ReynosaFollow, closed their accounts. Authorities have not confirmed that Fuentes was killed.

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, when there was a rise in the number of killings. The country was ranked seventh on CPJ’s 2014 Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are slain and the killers go free.