CPJ to Mexican president: case of jailed journalist violates free expression

April 20, 2015 12:24 PM ET

April 20, 2015

Enrique Peña Nieto

President of the United States of Mexico

Residencia Oficial de Los Pinos

Casa Miguel Alemán, PB, Col. San Miguel Chapultepec, 11850, Ciudad de México, Distrito Federal

Mexico

Via email: [email protected]

Dear President Peña Nieto,

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide, is writing to express its concern at the continued detention of an independent journalist and Mayan activist in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo.

Pedro Celestino Canché Herrera has been imprisoned since August 30, 2014, when he was arrested by state security forces and charged with sabotage, according to documents prepared by the freedom of expression group Article 19 that were provided to CPJ by Canché's lawyer, Maria Araceli Andrade Tomala. The journalist is approaching his eighth month in jail.

The charge against Canché stems from a criminal complaint brought against him by Fernando Alfonso Trujillo, the local manager of the Quintana Roo state water and sewage commission, who accused the journalist of personally directing protesters to block access to the commission's headquarters in the municipality of Felipe Carrillo Puerto on August 11. That demonstration came amid a series of protests that month against increased water bills in the state, according to news reports.

Canché denied the allegations and said he had witnesses and evidence that placed him in the city of Cancún on the day that the headquarters were blocked, according to his lawyer.

Canché had previously written about and had posted videos of the protests on Twitter and YouTube. A few of his photographs of the protests were published in the national magazine Proceso and then reprinted on the website of the daily Noticaribe.

Local journalists told CPJ that Canché has reported on and advocated for many years for local Mayan causes, worked in small local publications, and was an important source for journalists working in the region. In one widely viewed YouTube video he posted on August 24, 2014, he harshly criticized policies of the state governor, Roberto Borge, toward the Mayan population, and exposed poor quality of local hospitals in their cities and a rise in certain fees and taxes.

In February 2015, Reynaldo Piñón Rangel, the Sixth District Judge of the state of Quintana Roo, ruled that Canché's right to due process had been violated and said he found several irregularities in the charges and proceedings against the journalist, according to Canché's lawyer and news reports. Judge Piñón said there was no conclusive evidence that sabotage had occurred nor that Canché was even present on the days that the events described in the charges were alleged to have happened. He stated: "It is stressed that the responsible authority committed inaccuracies and inconsistencies in relation to the circumstances of time, manner and place of the commission of the wrongful act."

Judge Piñón did not release the journalist and ordered a lower court judge, the one who upheld a previous challenge to Canche's imprisonment, to review the case again.

Canché's lawyer and the state water commission have both appealed the ruling, the lawyer told CPJ. The proceedings are ongoing.

Mr. President, in December, we wrote to you to raise our concern about Canché's case and to inform you that he would be included in CPJ's annual list of imprisoned journalists. Mexico, which appeared in CPJ's census for the first time since 2006, was the only country in the Americas--besides Cuba--to be included.

Violence tied to organized crime has made Mexico one of the most dangerous countries in the world for the press over the course of the past decade, CPJ research shows. In this context of an already restricted press freedom climate, a critical journalist should not face retaliation and imprisonment by state authorities for reporting on issues of public interest.

Last week, you publicly stated that communication "is an essential tool for promoting freedom, debate and proper decision-making on matters of public interest... [and] is based on freedom of expression and the right to information." As president, you are sworn to uphold the federal constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression for all Mexicans. The actions taken by local authorities in Quintana Roo and the unjust imprisonment of Pedro Canche infringe upon these constitutional protections.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon

Executive Director

CC List:

Roberto Borge, governor of Quintana Roo

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