Vendors and customers walk at a market in San Cristobal de las Casas, in Chiapas, Mexico, on December 31, 2013. A Mexican journalist was gunned down in Chiapas on September 21, 2018. (Reuters/Claudia Daut)
Vendors and customers walk at a market in San Cristobal de las Casas, in Chiapas, Mexico, on December 31, 2013. A Mexican journalist was gunned down in Chiapas on September 21, 2018. (Reuters/Claudia Daut)

Mexican journalist gunned down in Chiapas

Mexico City, September 24, 2018–Mexican authorities must immediately undertake a rigorous and credible investigation into the killing of reporter Mario Leonel Gómez Sánchez in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Gómez, a reporter for local newspaper El Heraldo de Chiapas, was gunned down on September 21 outside his home in the town of Yajalón at approximately 5 p.m. He was killed by two unidentified gunmen riding a motorcycle, according to news reports and El Heraldo‘s news director, José Ramón Gallegos.

“Mexican authorities must do everything in their power to identify Mario Gómez’s attackers and establish whether there is a relationship between the killing and his work as a journalist,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico representative. “Journalists in Mexico will continue to fall victim to deadly violence when the killings of reporters linger in impunity.”

In a video published online yesterday by state and national media, the attackers can be seen approaching the reporter on a motorcycle and briefly stopping several meters from Gómez. One of the men fires several shots with a handgun, after which the assailants flee from the scene. Gallegos told CPJ that Gómez died shortly afterward in the hospital.

Héctor Flores, a spokesperson for the Chiapas state attorney general’s office, referred CPJ on September 21 to a short statement published on the office’s website, in which the authorities condemned the attack and said that an investigation had been opened. In a second statement, released on September 22, the state attorney general said the reporter’s work as a journalist was the principal line of investigation. According to the same statement, police found the casings of six 9mm caliber bullets at the crime scene. It added that the reporter was hit by four bullets.

The state attorney general’s office told the media today that a male suspect had been arrested. No further details as to the identity and a possible motive were given. The state attorney general’s office did not respond to several telephone calls from CPJ as of September 24.

Gómez, 41, had been a correspondent in Yajalón for El Heraldo de Chiapas for eight years, Gallegos told CPJ. He covered general news, including crime and violence in the region. According to Gallegos, the reporter had not worked in journalism before joining El Heraldo.

Gallegos told CPJ that Gómez had recently covered crime and security in the Yajalón region. He had also written stories about political developments after the July 1 Mexican general elections, which included elections for Chiapas governor and mayors in the state. CPJ was able to retrieve several stories authored by Gómez in recent months, including an article about an alleged homicide on September 11 and one about a family that survived an attack by unknown gunmen on June 29, both in Yajalón.

In June 2016, Gómez had reported receiving death threats on Facebook after he published an article about accusations of alleged corruption against federal congressman Leonardo Rafael Guirao. In an interview with press freedom group Article 19, the reporter said that the congressman’s driver, known in the region as ‘El Francotirador’ (‘The Sniper’), had written on the social network on June 15, 2016, that he was “going to blow your head off.” Gómez also said that, the next day, an unknown individual had warned him that a group of seven unidentified men planned to abduct him.

CPJ was unable to obtain contact information for Leonardo Rafael Guiraro.

On June 25, 2016, Gómez reported the threats against him to Chiapas state attorney general Raciel López Salazar. The reporter’s sister, Nancy Gómez, told newspaper El Universal on September 21 that the state authorities had provided him with police protection for three months after the reported threats, but that the threats were never properly investigated. She also said that Gómez no longer left his home in the evenings after he had received the June 2016 threats.

Mario Gómez had received threats and had police protection for some time, El Heraldo‘s news director Gallegos confirmed to CPJ. Gallegos told CPJ that he was unaware of any more recent threats against Gómez, but stressed that the Yajalón region has, in recent months, seen an increase in deadly violence. “Drug trafficking gangs have been steadily more active in that area,” he said. “Mario told me that the situation in Yajalón is tense. Several people were found killed there in recent months.”

Ricardo Sánchez Pérez del Pozo, who heads the office of the Federal Special Prosecutor for Attention to Crimes Committed Against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE), confirmed to CPJ on September 22 that he had opened an investigation into the killing.

A spokesperson for the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, which provides journalists with protection sanctioned by the federal government, told CPJ on September 22 that Gómez was not a beneficiary of the institution. He asked for anonymity to discuss the matter freely.

Mexico is the deadliest country in the Western Hemisphere for journalists. At least nine reporters have been killed in Mexico in 2018, according to CPJ research. CPJ has determined that at least three of the journalists killed in 2018 were targeted in direct reprisal for their work.

Editor’s note: The text has been updated in the last paragraph to correct the number of reporters killed in Mexico in 2018.