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Police tape is seen near Bavispe, Sonora state, Mexico, on January 11, 2020. Journalist Jorge Miguel Armenta Ávalos was recently killed in Sonora state. (AP/Christian Chavez)

Mexican newspaper owner Jorge Armenta shot and killed in Sonora

May 19, 2020 4:21 PM ET

Mexico City, May 19, 2020 -- Mexican authorities should conduct a swift and credible investigation into the killing of journalist Jorge Miguel Armenta Ávalos and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

At about 2 p.m. on May 16, a group of unidentified men opened fire on Armenta and two police officers who accompanied him as bodyguards while they were leaving a restaurant in the town of Cajeme, in the northern Mexican state of Sonora, according to news reports.

Armenta and one of the police officers died at the scene, and a second officer was rushed to a hospital and is in serious condition, according to Mexico City newspaper Excélsior.

Armenta was the founder and owner of the Última Palabra weekly news magazine and the El Tiempo de Medios Obson daily newspaper, both based in Ciudad Obregón in Sonora, according to Excélsior.

Armenta and some of the editorial staff of El Tiempo de Medios Obson had received numerous threats in recent years, according to Martín Mendoza, who covers crime at the newspaper, and spoke to CPJ in a phone interview. He said that Armenta had not told him about any specific threats.

“The threats came from criminal gangs in Ciudad Obregón, who don’t like the fact that we consistently publish about murders in the area,” he said, adding that he had “no doubt” that Armenta was killed because of his work.

“The brutal killing of Jorge Armenta, who enjoyed federal protection, once again lays bare Mexican authorities’ inability to protect journalists from deadly violence,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico representative. “Even as the country is largely locked down by the COVID-19 pandemic, deadly attacks continue unabated and underscore the Mexican state’s continuing failure to guarantee journalists’ safety. Authorities must thoroughly investigate this killing and hold those responsible to account.”

Última Palabra and El Tiempo de Medios Obson report on security, politics, and general news in Sonora, with a specific focus on violence in turf wars between criminal gangs, according to CPJ’s review of their coverage.

“We publish precise numbers on how many people are killed every month in Ciudad Obregón,” Mendoza told CPJ. “We’ve never shied away from reporting on violence, but it does increase the risk of becoming a target.”

In 2016, unknown attackers hurled a grenade at the offices of El Tiempo de Medios Obson, after which Armenta and some of his staff were enrolled in a protection scheme coordinated by the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, according to news reports and Mendoza.

The two bodyguards who accompanied Armenta when he was attacked were assigned to him as part of that protection scheme, an official at the mechanism,

which operates under the federal Interior Secretariat in Mexico City, told CPJ. The official asked to remain anonymous, as they were not authorized to comment on the issue. The mechanism condemned the attack in a statement published on May 18.

Guadalupe Orduño, a spokesperson for the Sonora state attorney general’s office, told CPJ in a phone interview that her office had opened an investigation into the killing. She said that state authorities have not discarded any possible motive, including Armenta’s work, and that they would request federal assistance if it becomes clear that Armenta was targeted because of his journalism.

Mexico is the most dangerous country in the Western Hemisphere for journalists, according to CPJ research. At least one reporter, Maria Elena Ferral, was murdered this year because of her work.