Unidentified gunman on December 23, 2017, robbed Antonio Julián Chepe, the editorial director of regional newspaper Diario Alternativo, stripped him naked, and threatened to kill him, the journalist told CPJ.
Chepe told CPJ that he does not know if the incident was related to his work as a journalist or to previous threats that his newspaper has received.
Chepe said he was driving his vehicle on the highway between his hometown in Marquelia and Acapulco in Mexico’s southern Guerrero state when at least six men carrying automatic rifles gestured for him to stop. Three of the men then entered his car and began to beat him with their hands, and threatened to kill him, the journalist said.
The gunmen then drove Chepe in their car to a nearby abandoned plot of land, asked him where he had been driving, if he was armed, and how much money he carried with him, the journalist recounted to CPJ during an interview on January 3, 2017.
The attackers then instructed Chepe to remain on the abandoned plot for at least three hours, and said they would kill him if he did not comply with their orders, the journalist said. Chepe said the attackers stole his car, credit cards, cellphone, and documents with his personal information, including his home address.
Chepe said he waited a short time before walking to a nearby roadblock manned by soldiers and state police.
The journalist told CPJ that neither police nor soldiers provided any assistance, instead telling him to call emergency services, though they provided no phone.
Chepe by chance met his friend at the roadblock. The friend then drove the journalist back to Marquelia, and where he visited a doctor to receive treatment for injuries sustained during the attack.
After this, Chepe called the emergency services, but said that they refused to help him, as he was unable to provide the full details of his stolen vehicle at the time.
CPJ was unable to reach the Guerrero state authorities or the federal Secretariat of Defense for comment.
Chepe has worked as Diario Alternativo‘s editorial director for the last seven years. The Marquelia paper covers general news in the Costa Chica region, including crime, and has an active Facebook page. In the days before the attack on Chepe, the newspaper’s Facebook account mostly reported stories about local politics, state employees on strike, and social issues. CPJ did not have access to the contents of its recent print editions.
Guerrero has one of the highest violent crime and murder rates in Mexico, and Costa Chica is known as a center for violent drug trafficking gangs, according to news reports.
In recent years, area residents have founded a number of so-called “self-defense groups,” effectively armed civilian militias, to combat regional crime and violence, according to news reports.
According to Chepe, Diario Alternativo‘s critical coverage of the activities of local militias, specifically the Union of Peoples and Organizations of the State of Guerrero (UPOEG), has led to threats against the newspaper and its reporters in recent years.
On March 17, 2017, Alternativo reported on its Facebook page that a local UPOEG commander had threatened one of the newspaper’s reporters. According to Chepe, members of the militia responded to the publication of the article by threatening to set fire to the offices of the newspaper.
CPJ was unable to reach the UPOEG by phone for comment.
In April 2017, Alternativo enrolled in a protection scheme of the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which operates under the jurisdiction of the federal Secretariat of the Interior. A mechanism spokesperson told CPJ it had installed protective fences and cameras at the offices of the newspaper, and that the mechanism’s governing body will evaluate the attack on Chepe to determine whether additional safety measures are necessary.
Ricardo Sánchez Pérez del Pozo, the federal Special Prosecutor for Attention to Crimes Committed Against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE), told CPJ that his institution is reviewing the case.
On January 6, 2018, Chepe told CPJ in a telephone conversation that FEADLE had assigned a prosecutor to his case and the special prosecutor had opened a case file after taking his statement.
Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. According to CPJ research, at least six reporters were killed in direct relation to their work in 2017. CPJ is investigating the motive for another three murders.