Critical reporter shot dead in Oaxaca, Mexico

Mexico City, January 26, 2016–The Committee to Protect Journalists urges Mexican authorities to investigate the murder of Marcos Hernández Bautista, including the possibility that he was killed for his work as a journalist, find all those responsible, and bring them to justice.

Hernández, a reporter for the daily Noticias, Voz e Imagen de Oaxaca, was shot in the head with a 9mm pistol as he climbed into his car outside a bar on Thursday in the municipality of San Andrés Huaxpaltepec, in the state of Oaxaca, according to his paper and other reports.

“Mexican authorities must exhaustively investigate Marcos Hernández Bautista’s killing, determine the motive, and bring those responsible to justice,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior Americas program coordinator, in New York. “The Mexican government must put an end to the cycle of violence and impunity that has made Mexico one of the most dangerous countries in the world for the press.”

Ismael Sanmartín Hernández, the editorial director of Noticias, Voz e Imagen de Oaxaca, told CPJ that Hernández “took on the topic of local cacicazgos” –local strongmen who rule parts of the region–and wrote about their alleged influence in local politics. “He was often in fear,” Sanmartín added. He told CPJ Hernández had been working on sensitive stories and was afraid, but did not elaborate. Attempts by CPJ to reach Sanmartín for further details were unsuccessful.

Hernández, 38, was also a freelance correspondent for La Ke Buena radio in the municipality of Pinotepa Nacional and a community station in Santiago Jamiltepec, according to local news reports and a colleague at the paper, who spoke with CPJ. The colleague, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisals, said Hernández reported on social issues including poverty, education, and politics. He said Hernández had recently reported on protests over the construction of a dam. The colleague added that he did not know of any threats against Hernández, but said the journalist had been afraid over his reporting on sensitive issues.

Oaxaca state prosecutor Héctor Joaquín Carrillo told Agence France Presse that investigators had not identified a motive for the attack.

Sanmartín told CPJ Hernández was affiliated with the left-wing opposition political party MORENA, and was a municipal official responsible for culture in Santiago Jamiltepec. The other colleague with whom CPJ spoke said that Hernández took part in politics but was not a prominent party member.

A column published in Noticias, Voz e Imagen de Oaxaca portrayed Hernández as a brave reporter, covering a region beset by political violence and, increasingly, drug cartels. “Time and again, Marcos Hernández Bautista, in the pages of Noticias, tirelessly revealed the true face of the coast; people’s aspirations, their struggles and conflicts, not only with organized crime, but with the other powers that be and corrupt public functionaries suspected of being linked with narcotics trafficking activities,” Amado Sanmartín Hernández wrote in the newspaper over the weekend.

Two journalists have been killed in direct relation to their work in Oaxaca in the past 12 months, according to CPJ research. Filadelfo Sánchez Sarmiento was shot dead in July outside a radio station where he hosted a news program, in the municipality of Miahuatlán de Porfirio Díaz. Sánchez had received death threats prior to the attack, according to news reports. In May 2015, the body of Veracruz radio journalist Armando Saldaña Morales was discovered, with four gunshots to the head, in Oaxaca.

Violence brought about by drug trafficking has turned Mexico into one of the most dangerous countries in the world to work as a journalist, according to CPJ research. Since 1992, 35 journalists have been killed there for their work. Mexico ranked eighth on CPJ’s 2015 Impunity Index, which highlights countries where journalists are murdered and their assailants go free.