Mexican photojournalist who fled violent Veracruz state murdered in capital

Mexico City, August 3, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the murder of Mexican photojournalist Rubén Espinosa and calls on authorities to investigative all motives in the killing and ensure the perpetrators are held to account. Espinosa, who had fled to the capital from Veracruz state after receiving threats, was found murdered in a Mexico City apartment on Friday, according to news reports.

Veracruz is one of the most dangerous states for the press in Mexico, according to CPJ research. Four journalists have been killed in Veracruz in direct relation to their work since 2011, according to CPJ research. Seven other journalists were killed in unclear circumstances and at least three journalists have disappeared in the state in the same time period.

“Rubén Espinosa fled after being threatened in one of the region’s deadliest states for journalists and was murdered after six weeks in a place once seen as a safe haven in the country,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. “It is time for federal and local authorities to take action to combat the serious press freedom crisis facing Mexico. This means fully investigating Espinosa’s murder and all possible motives, particularly that he might have been killed in reprisal for his work.”

Espinosa was found in an apartment with four female victims, and all of them had been shot in the head, authorities said on Sunday. One of the victims was a friend of Espinosa’s and a student activist in Xalapa, Nadia Vera, the Veracruz online publication Plumas Libres reported.

Espinosa fled Veracruz state and arrived in Mexico City in June, he told CPJ in an interview that month. Espinosa had worked for the local news agency AVC Noticias, the national newsweekly Proceso, and photo agency Cuartoscuro and often covered local activist causes, local journalists told CPJ.

Espinosa had been threatened repeatedly in the past few years. He told CPJ in June that he fled Veracruz after he noticed people outside his home in Xalapa three separate times who gave him intimidating glances and gestures. He said that in 2013, he was among the journalists attacked by police during a September 2013 eviction of protesting teachers and students. In 2012, he said, an unidentified man “grabbed me by the shirt, threw me up against a metal curtain and told me, ‘Stop taking photos … if you don’t want to end up like Regina Martínez.'”

Regina Martínez Pérez, the Veracruz correspondent for Proceso, was killed in April 2012 after critical reporting on state officials.

Espinosa had clashed in the past with the authorities in Veracruz. He told the online news site Sin Embargo that local authorities had been angered by a front-page photo he had taken of Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte de Ochoa that was published in Proceso on February 15, 2014, under the headline “Veracruz: Lawless State.”

Espinosa never approached the federal protection mechanism for at-risk journalists, a federal government official, who asked to remain anonymous, told CPJ.

Officials with the Mexico City attorney general’s office on Sunday offered no motive for the crime and did not directly answer questions as to whether Espinosa’s death was related to his work as a journalist, news reports said. Local prosecutor Rodolfo Rios Garza told reporters that all lines of investigation would be pursued.

Duarte said on Sunday that he expected Mexico City officials to solve the crime. But Duarte’s government has sought in the past to dismiss any possible link between journalists’ murders and their profession. In July, Duarte told reporters, “We must not confuse freedom of expression with representing the expression of criminals in the media” and accused local reporters of collaborating with crime gangs.

Violence linked to organized crime has made Mexico one of the deadliest countries for journalists in the region, according to CPJ research. Many journalists have fled their states, often finding refuge in Mexico City, which had been seen as a safe haven compared with the rest of the country, according to CPJ research.

  • For data and analysis on Mexico, visit CPJ’s Mexico page.