Mexico City, July 25, 2018–Authorities in the southern Mexican state of Quintana Roo must undertake a swift, credible, and exhaustive investigation into the murder of journalist and media owner Rubén Pat Cauich. Pat was shot to death by an unknown attacker on July 24 in a bar in the coastal resort city of Playa del Carmen in the southern Mexican state of Quintana Roo, according to news reports and a statement by the state authorities. The murder occurred despite Pat having been enrolled in a federal protection scheme after previously reported threats and attacks against him, and less than a month after one of his reporters had been killed.
Pat, 41, was the owner of online news resource Semanario Playa News, which he founded nine months ago with two other reporters and which operates on Facebook. 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, as well municipalities such as Felipe Carrillo Puerto. Both Playa del Carmen and Cancún are popular tourist destinations.
CPJ was unable to determine whether Pat had written or posted any of Playa News‘s most recent content before his murder, which included videos and short articles about a shooting and a beheading, as most of the posts do not carry a byline. Attempts by CPJ to reach Playa News for comment on July 25 via its Facebook page remain unanswered.
“The murder of Rubén Pat is a tragic and urgent reminder that Mexico must do everything in its power to protect journalists and properly investigate media killings,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico representative. “Pat’s murder is especially grave, considering he had been provided with protective measures by the federal government and the fact that a co-worker had been killed only weeks earlier.”
According to news reports and a July 24 statement by the Quintana Roo state attorney general’s office provided to CPJ via text message, Pat was attacked in Playa del Carmen shortly before 6:00 a.m., as he exited a bar named Arre with a woman whose identity has not been made public. An unknown male assailant wearing a cap approached the journalist and shot him six times, after which he immediately fled the scene. Pat died instantly from his injuries.
The state attorney general’s office has not revealed the type of weapon with which the reporter was shot and has not made public whether it is aware of the identity of the attacker. The office said it has not discarded any line of investigation, including Pat’s work as a journalist as a possible motive for the murder. In a July 25 text message exchange with CPJ, Quintana Roo state attorney general Miguel Ángel Pech Cen did not elaborate on the information given in the statement, but emphasized that his office had assigned a team to investigate the murder.
Ricardo Sánchez Pérez del Pozo, who heads the office of the Federal Special Prosecutor for Attention to Crimes Committed against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE), told CPJ on July 25 that his office had opened an investigation into the murder and that it had sent investigators to Quintana Roo. He confirmed to CPJ that his office currently provides support to the local authorities, but said that it has not taken charge of the investigation. He also confirmed that his office has not ruled out any motive for the murder, including Pat’s work as a reporter.
In June 2017, Pat had told CPJ that he had been briefly detained, beaten, and threatened by municipal police over his reporting of crime and the activities of local police in Playa del Carmen. On July 4, 2018, in a WhatsApp conversation, Pat told CPJ that he had received threats in the comment section of a recent article on Semanario Playa News, without specifying which article.
“I think I need to leave Playa del Carmen for a while,” he told CPJ on July 4. “No one guarantees my safety.”
Pat expressed his fear days after one of his reporters, José Guadalupe Chan Dzib, was shot to death on June 29 by an unknown attacker in a bar in the small town of Sabán, some 150 miles south of Cancún. Pat told CPJ shortly after that murder that Chan Dzib–who reported on crime and security, politics, and other local news–had received threats. CPJ has not yet confirmed the motive in Chan Dzib’s killing.
Pat had received protective measures via the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which operates under the auspices of the federal Interior Secretariat, since May, including a panic button and monitoring by officials of the mechanism. A spokesperson for the mechanism did not respond to questions sent by CPJ via text message about the protection scheme provided to Pat on July 24.
Mexico is one of the most deadly countries in the world for journalists, according to CPJ research. Pat was the seventh journalist killed in Mexico this year. CPJ has determined that at least two of the journalists killed in 2018 were targeted in direct reprisal for their work.