Police officers are seen in Sonora, Mexico, on November 8, 2019. Sonora-based reporter Marco Antonio Duarte Vargas's car was recently firebombed. (Reuters/Carlos Jasso)

Mexican reporter’s car firebombed in Sonora state

Mexico City, May 29, 2020 — Mexican authorities should immediately provide journalist Marco Antonio Duarte Vargas with protective measures and credibly investigate threats against his life, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On May 27, at about 11:30 p.m., unknown assailants set fire to Duarte’s car at his home in Ciudad Obregón, in the northern state of Sonora, according to news reports. Duarte, the founder and editor of the online news outlet Ciudad Obregón Sin Censura, told CPJ in a phone interview that the car was damaged but no one was injured in the attack.

Duarte told CPJ that he heard a loud bang and saw his car on fire in his driveway, but did not see any of the attackers.

Guadalupe Orduño, a spokesperson for the Sonora state prosecutor’s office, told CPJ via messaging app that her office had opened an investigation into the attack and that no motive had been ruled out, including the Duarte’s work as a journalist.

The attack occurred less than two weeks after a group of unidentified men killed Ciudad Obregón media owner and reporter Jorge Armenta, as CPJ documented at the time.

“The shocking attack on Marco Antonio Duarte, just weeks after a journalist from Ciudad Obregón was killed, is yet another sign of the Mexican government’s inability to prevent violence against the press,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico representative. “The authorities cannot let these attacks go unpunished, lest those who attack reporters will know they can continue their violence in complete impunity.”

Ciudad Obregón Sin Censura mostly reports on corruption and abuses by local authorities in Ciudad Obregón and its surroundings, and publishes its stories on Facebook, Duarte said. Most recently, the outlet’s Facebook page published articles and videos on the COVID-19 pandemic, crime, and Armenta’s killing.

Duerte said the outlet used to run a separate news website, but told CPJ he took the site down last December after receiving death threats. On December 23, 2019, two individuals threatened Duerte over his reporting, saying they would shoot him, he told CPJ, saying they did not reference any specific articles in their threat.

Duerte also said that unknown individuals stole cameras and computers from his home and poisoned one of his dogs last October. In August 2019, Duerte also received death threats over his reporting from Ascensión López, a municipal official in Cajeme, a town north of Ciudad Obregón, according to news reports from the time.

CPJ called Ascensión López and the Cajeme municipal government for comment, but no one answered.

Duarte told CPJ that he had been in touch last year with the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which operates under the auspices of the federal Interior Secretariat, to seek enrollment in a federal protection scheme, but said such a scheme had not yet materialized.

An official for the mechanism told CPJ that he was investigating why this had not happened. He asked to remain anonymous, as he was not authorized to speak on the matter.

Mexico is the most dangerous country in the Western Hemisphere for journalists, according to CPJ research.