Investigators examine the crime scene where Mexico journalist Juan Carlos Huerta was shot dead in Villahermosa, in Mexico's Tabasco state on May 15. (AFP/Carlos Perez)
Investigators examine the crime scene where Mexico journalist Juan Carlos Huerta was shot dead in Villahermosa, in Mexico's Tabasco state on May 15. (AFP/Carlos Perez)

Federal authorities in Mexico open investigation into journalist killed in Tabasco state

Mexico City, May 24, 2018–Federal authorities in Mexico have opened an investigation into the killing of radio and television journalist Juan Carlos Huerta, who was shot dead near his home in the Tabasco state capital, Villahermosa, on May 15.

Ricardo Sánchez Pérez del Pozo, who heads the office of the Federal Prosecutor for Attention to Crimes Committed against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE), told CPJ that his office opened an investigation into the shooting, and that personnel have traveled to Tabasco to collaborate with the state authorities on the case.

The federal action comes as the Tabasco attorney general, Fernando Valenzuela Pernas, said in a statement said state authorities have discarded journalism as a motive.

“After comments by Tabasco state authorities, who were quick to dismiss journalism as a motive in the killing of Juan Carlos Huerta, federal authorities in Mexico have an opportunity to show they are committed to conserving the rights of freedom of expression,” said CPJ Mexico Representative Jan-Albert Hootsen. “CPJ welcomes the intervention of the FEADLE and calls on authorities to carry out an exhaustive investigation into the shooting.”

Huerta, 47, owned the radio station Sin Reservas (Without Reservations), which he founded in January, according to reports. As well as the station, Huerta presented “Notinueve,” (News on Nine), a television news show broadcast on the local Channel 9 station.

Both Sin Reservas and “Notinueve” cover general state and national news, local and national politics and international affairs. The broadcasts on the radio station and the program on Channel 9 in the days before Huerta’s murder mostly touched on an electoral campaign for the presidency and for Tabasco governor, according to reports. Several Tabasco-based journalists told CPJ that the shows, particularly on Sin Reservas, had large audiences in the state.

A statement given to local media on May 15 by the state’s attorney general, Fernando Valenzuela Pernas, said that unknown assailants in a gray SUV fired at Huerta while he was in his car. He was shot at least four times and died instantly, according to Valenzuela, who cited unidentified witnesses.

On May 21, the state attorney general said in a statement that the authorities discarded journalism as a motive after looking at video footage, interviews and analyzing unspecified electronic devices. Valenzuela said that the murder was premeditated and added that his office was investigating two lines of investigation, without providing further details on what those lines of investigation are

Repeated attempts by CPJ to reach the state attorney general’s office for comment between May 21 and May 23 remained unanswered.

In a statement the day of the killing, Tabasco Governor Arturo Nuñez said that the assailants went directly after Huerta.

A spokesperson for the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, who asked for anonymity to be able to speak on the matter, told CPJ on May 18 that Huerta had not reported any threats to the mechanism and that he was not enrolled in a federal protection scheme.

Several attempts by CPJ to reach Huerta’s colleagues at the radio station remained unanswered as of May 23.

Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the Western Hemisphere for journalists. Before Huerta’s murder, at least two journalists were killed in direct relation to their work there in 2018 alone, according to CPJ research.