In this file photo, municipal police block a street in Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico, January 17, 2017. (Reuters/Victor Ruiz Garcia)
In this file photo, municipal police block a street in Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico, January 17, 2017. (Reuters/Victor Ruiz Garcia)

Mexican journalist says he was attacked, threatened by police

Mexico City, June 29, 2017–Mexican authorities should swiftly and credibly investigate the alleged assault of journalist Rubén Pat, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Pat, the co-founder of the online news resource Semanario Playa News, told CPJ that police beat him, detained him overnight, and threatened him for his reporting.

Pat, 41, told CPJ that municipal police in Playa del Carmen, in the southern state of Quintana Roo, signaled for him to pull his motorcycle over as he left a meeting with other journalists at around 1:30 a.m. on June 25. When the journalist complied, police handcuffed him and violently pushed him into the patrol car, he said.

“They pulled a T-shirt over my head and started kicking me while driving around,” Pat told CPJ. “At least one of them repeatedly punched me in the face.”

Pat said that police continued beating him as they drove around for roughly 40 minutes, threatening him. “They told me to stop publishing articles about a local police chief, and that I knew what would be coming to me if I didn’t.”

Municipal police did not respond to several requests by CPJ for comment over telephone and social media today.

“Mexican state and federal authorities should investigate serious allegations that police beat and threatened journalist Rubén Pat, and ensure that he can do his work without fear of reprisal,” Alex Ellerbeck, senior research associate for the Americas at CPJ, said from New York. “The only way to protect journalists in Mexico is to combat the rampant impunity that allows journalists to be attacked with no consequences for the perpetrators.”

Pat said the policemen eventually stopped at the main local police station, at approximately 2:00 a.m., and that he was then jailed for several hours in a holding cell with roughly two dozen other people, before he was allowed to make a phone call. At approximately 6:00 a.m., a family member ensured his release by paying a fine to a judge present at the station, but Pat told CPJ that he was never told on which charges he had been held: “I have not been given any document telling me why I was arrested or why they kept me in jail.”

Pat said the police officers were angry about a short article he had published on May 30, in which he reported on several banners members of a criminal syndicate allegedly hung around Playa del Carmen accusing the local police chief of having “sold” Playa del Carmen to a rival criminal gang.

The journalist told CPJ that the attack left him with cuts and bruises on his torso and face, and that he now suffers from headaches and blurry vision. He also said that he fears for his safety and that of his family: “I have hardly left my home since it happened. Police cars have been driving past my house the last few days. I am afraid to leave. I’m also worried that I don’t have the money to pay for medical treatment.”

Pat said that he reported the attack to the Quintana Roo state authorities and to the Federal Mechanism for Protection of Journalists and Human Rights Defenders, which implements security measures for reporters who suffer violence and threats, and that he plans to report the attack to the Federal Special Prosecutor for Attention to Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) this week.

Pat co-founded Semanario Playa News eight months ago with two other reporters as a news portal on social media. He told CPJ that he had been a reporter for different media outlets in Quintana Roo for 13 years, until he decided he wanted to start his own news outlet. Although Playa News is now available only on Facebook, he hopes to turn it into a stand-alone news website. Playa News mostly covers crime, accidents, and local politics in the municipalities of Solidaridad, to which Playa del Carmen belongs, and Benito Juárez, which includes the city of Cancún. Both Playa del Carmen and Cancún are popular tourist destinations.

Mexico is on a par with Iraq as the two most deadly countries in the world for journalists in 2017. According to CPJ research, at least four journalists have been murdered in Mexico this year in direct retaliation for their work, including well-known reporters Miroslava Breach and Javier Valdez Cárdenas. CPJ is investigating the motives for the murder of El Político reporter Ricardo Monlui Cabrera in March.

Attacks on the press are a common occurrence in Quintana Roo as well. On May 29, Carlos Barrios, a reporter for the Playa del Carmen-based magazine Aspectos, was assaulted and threatened by an unknown assailant, who also threatened his editor, Eduardo Rascón.