Police detain Mexican journalists covering protest

Police on April 6, 2016, briefly detained two journalists covering a protest at the seat of government for the Múgica municipality in the central Mexican state of Michoacán.

Salvador Adame told the Committee to Protect Journalists that state police officers detained him and Frida Pardo, his wife and co-owner of the local broadcaster 6TV Tu Canal, then beat them while they were handcuffed in the back of a police pick-up truck. The two were released later that day.

Adame said he and Pardo arrived at the seat of municipal government in the town of Nueva Italia shortly after 9 a.m. to cover a sit-in by 17 women protesting changes in a local social program.

“We heard that there would be a police operation to remove the women,” Adame told CPJ. “We saw that a group of policemen belonging to the special operations division of the state Public Security Secretariat had arrived.”

The policemen were led by Múgica’s municipal president, Salvador Ruiz Ruiz, and the state’s Undersecretary of Public Security, Carlos Gómez Arrieta, Adame said. Arrieta asked both journalists for their credentials as the policemen began moving the women from the site, and the two continued filming, Adame said.

After taking most of the protesters to police trucks, several police officers approached Pardo, once again asking her and Adame for credentials. Adame told the officers they were both journalists, but police brought them to separate trucks regardless, he said.

Adame told CPJ that police handcuffed them and drove them around in separate trucks, during which time they were kicked and beaten. They were brought back to the municipal palace shortly afterwards and released.

“Beyond the physical injuries caused by the beatings, I especially feared for my wife’s health,” Adame told CPJ. “She has a heart condition, I was afraid the commotion and the violence could have caused her a heart attack.”

Two videos taken by the journalists and shared on social media corroborate Adame’s account of the detention. The footage shows policemen marching the journalists to the trucks, though there is no known footage of the beatings or the moment the pair was released. Adame told CPJ that only one of the two cameras he and his wife had brought to cover the protest was returned to them.

In recent years, Michoacán has become one of Mexico’s most violent states due to turf battles between organized crime groups, according to press reports. Consequently, the federal government has stationed a large contingent of soldiers and police in the state since 2006. Heavily armed vigilante groups have also had a continuous presence, especially in the southern Tierra Caliente region.

Adame said nevertheless that the arrest and the beatings came as surprise to him and his wife. “We cover social issues and sometimes annoy the authorities by doing so, but I have never had any problem with them,” he told CPJ.

He said he believes the order to detain him and his wife may have come from a government official. “That we were filming the removal of the women may have angered someone, but we were just doing our job,” he told CPJ. He said he is now considering leaving the state.

Michoacán state authorities did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment.