Chihuahua City, March 23, 2018–Authorities in Mexico’s Veracruz state must undertake a credible and exhaustive investigation into the murder of journalist Leobardo Vázquez Atzin, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Vázquez was shot to death the evening of March 21 by unknown assailants in the restaurant he owned in the town of Gutiérrez Zamora, approximately 200 miles east of Mexico City, according to news reports and information provided to CPJ by Veracruz state authorities.
A veteran newspaper reporter, Vázquez in February began writing about regional crime, corruption, and general news exclusively on his Facebook page, Enlace Informativo Regional, according to the page and news reports.
“The murder of Leobardo Vázquez Atzin is the latest in a string of murders in Veracruz state, the most dangerous area for journalists in the western hemisphere,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico Representative. “It is imperative that authorities do everything in their power to bring the perpetrators to justice and end the cycle of near complete impunity that has decimated the independent press in Mexico.”
On March 22, Jaime Cisneros, the Veracruz state special prosecutor handling attacks against journalists, confirmed to CPJ in a WhatsApp message that prosecutors are investigating Vázquez’s murder and are considering the victim’s work as a journalist as a possible motive for his murder.
Though Vázquez did not sign his name to his articles, it was widely known that he ran the page, according to journalists in Veracruz who CPJ has not named for safety reasons.
Several of Vázquez’s recent posts on Enlace Informativo Regional were highly critical of Juan Ángel Espejo, the mayor of Tecolutla, a town neighboring Gutiérrez Zamora. In a Facebook post from March 9, Vázquez said he received threats and bribe offers to stop writing about the Tecolutla mayor, but did not elaborate.
CPJ’s repeated phone calls to the Tecolutla mayor’s office for comment were unanswered.
Prior to starting Enlace Informativo Regional, Vázquez worked as a reporter for local newspapers Vanguardia and La Opinión de Poza Rica and primarily covered social events and occasionally crime, according to news reports and information provided to CPJ by the Veracruz State Commission for Attention and Protection to Journalists (CEAPP).
CEAPP president, Ana Laura Pérez, on March 21 told CPJ that the commission learned of threats made against Vázquez shortly after his murder. Pérez said CEAPP was still investigating the journalist’s death and therefore could not provide more information about the alleged threats.
A Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists spokesperson, who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons, told CPJ on March 21 that Vázquez had not been enrolled in a protection scheme sanctioned by the federal government.