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Journalists demonstrate against the killing of their colleague Maria Helena Ferral at Lerdo square in Xalapa, Veracruz state, Mexico on April 1, 2020. (AFP/Hector Quintanar)

Mexican reporter Maria Elena Ferral shot and killed in Veracruz

April 3, 2020 12:43 PM ET

Mexico City, April 3, 2020 -- Mexican authorities should conduct a swift and credible investigation into the killing of reporter Maria Elena Ferral, determine whether the attack was related to her work, and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On March 30, two unidentified men on a motorcycle shot Ferral at least three times while she was leaving the office of a local notary in the city of Papantla, in Veracruz state, according to news reports.

She was rushed to a local hospital, where she died while undergoing surgery, according to Ana Laura Pérez, the president of the Veracruz State Commission for Attention to and Protection of Journalists (CEAPP), which operates autonomously from the state government, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.

Ferral was a correspondent for the El Diario de Xalapa newspaper and also co-founded El Quinto Poder, a local news website, according to news reports. She also published columns on La Polaca Totonaca, a personal Facebook page.

In a statement published on Twitter that same day, the Veracruz state prosecutor’s office said it had opened an investigation into the killing.

“With the tragic and brutal killing of Maria Elena Ferral, Veracruz confirms its status as not only the deadliest state for reporters in Mexico, but the single most violent territory for the press in the entire Western Hemisphere,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico representative. “Even as Mexico is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities must not turn away from their responsibility to thoroughly investigate her case, determine whether it was retaliation for her journalism, and bring her killers to justice.”

In an interview with news webste E-Consulta Veracruz, published shortly after the reporter’s funeral on April 1, Ferral’s daughter Fernanda De Luna Ferral said that her mother’s life had been in danger because of a column she published on March 12 on La Polaca Totonaca, in which she wrote about the murders of several candidates for mayor of Gutiérrez Zamora, a nearby municipality.

De Luna Ferral told E-Consulta Veracruz that she asked her mother to take precautions after the column was published, because of the sensitive nature of the subject of the article.

A reporter from Poza Rica, a city near Papantla, who had worked with Ferral several times, told CPJ on April 1 that they were aware of threats against the reporter’s life, but did not know any specific details about the threats.

“Maria Elena was hermetic, she did not speak a lot about the dangers of her work,” the reporter, who asked CPJ to remain anonymous for safety reasons, added.

Ferral mostly reported on local news, politics, and crime in the Papantla area. Her most recent stories for El Diario de Xalapa reported on traffic accidents and crime.

Requests by CPJ for comment via the Facebook pages of El Diario de Xalapa and El Quinto Poder remain unanswered.

In April 2016, Basilio Camerino Picazo Pérez, then a candidate for Veracruz state congress, threatened to abduct and kill Ferral, and she reported the threat to authorities, according to news reports.

In those reports, Ferral did not specify why Picazo had threatened her. CPJ was unable to find contact information for Picazo Pérez.

Ana Laura Pérez told CPJ that Ferral had been assigned a bodyguard and a GPS device in 2016 after having reported threats.

The state Public Security Secretariat removed the bodyguards in 2017, however, without consulting with the protection committee, Laura Pérez said. She said the state government had determined that Ferral had not ‘made good use’ of the security measures, but was unable to provide further details.

CPJ called the Veracruz Public Security Secretariat on April 1 and April 2 for comment, but no one answered the phone.

Mexico is the most dangerous country in the Western Hemisphere for journalists. According to CPJ research, at least five journalists were killed in 2019 in direct relation to their work. No state has been deadlier than Veracruz; since 1992, the first year CPJ began gathering statistics, at least seven journalists were murdered in the state in retaliation to their work. CPJ is investigating the motives of another fifteen killings in the state.