The July 31 murder of Mexican photographer Rubén Espinosa hit the press freedom community really hard. Espinosa, who was found in an apartment with four female victims–all of them shot in the head–had fled the state of Veracruz in June and sought refuge in Mexico City, where he thought he would be safe from threats and intimidation.
What happened next is symptomatic of the profound freedom of expression crisis that Mexico is facing: Espinosa decided that it was not worth seeking help from the federal mechanism that provides protection to journalists under threat. As a result of the deep lack of trust between journalists and authorities, Espinosa chose to simply ignore the federal government’s protection program.
The situation has its origin in the almost complete record of impunity in Mexico. Ninety percent of journalist killings in Mexico go unresolved, according to CPJ research, a dismal record that merely aggravates the crisis and leaves journalists wide open to attacks.
The multiple homicide made headlines around the world and touched a nerve among journalists and advocates. A letter written by Latin American journalists–including Alma Guillermoprieto, Guillermo Osorno, and Carlos Dada, and signed by more than 500 writers, artists, and journalists from around the world–called on Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to put an end to the unprecedented cycle of violence and to fully investigate crimes against journalists. The letter, written with support from CPJ and PEN America, was also signed by CPJ’s executive director, Joel Simon, and many of CPJ’s board members.
The letter urged the Peña Nieto administration “to guarantee the immediate and effective investigation of the assassination of Rubén Espinosa and the shameful number of journalists in Mexico who have met the same fate.” It also called on the federal government “to undertake an immediate review of the procedures established to protect reporters’ lives, and to make a swift and effective commitment to guarantee and protect freedom of expression in Mexico.”
Journalist Guillermo Osorno hand-delivered the letter to President Peña Nieto’s office at Los Pinos presidential palace on Monday morning and then hosted a press conference.
In a statement responding to the letter, the Mexican government “categorically” condemned anti-press attacks and pledged President Peña Nieto’s commitment to freedom of expression, recognizing that crimes against journalists had an additional impact on society as they “represent attacks against liberties of all Mexicans.”
The statement also said that no motive had been discarded in the investigation into the murder of Espinosa and the four women. But, in fact, the investigation led by Mexico City’s Attorney General’s Office has been harshly criticized by local journalists and advocates precisely for not seriously considering the repeated threats against Espinosa as a possible motive.
Strong political will is lacking to modify the current dynamic of violence and impunity affecting the Mexican press. The absence of justice–which has led to a crisis for the free press–requires the urgent attention of the federal government. If this vicious cycle of impunity is not stopped with successful prosecutions and exemplary convictions, the possibility of an open and participatory democracy will be painfully curtailed.