People protesting the killing of journalists march from the Senate to the Interior Ministry in Mexico City on August 21, 2019. At least two journalists have been killed in 2020 while under federal protection. (AP/Rebecca Blackwell)

Mexican journalist Pablo Morrugares killed in Iguala

Mexico City, August 4, 2020 – Mexican authorities must immediately and credibly investigate the murder of reporter Pablo Morrugares and bring the attackers to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Morrugares was shot and killed in the city of Iguala in early hours of August 2, according to news reports and officials.

Morrugares is at least the second journalist to be killed this year while enrolled in a federal protection program for journalists under threat.

“We are dismayed that Mexican journalists are being killed while supposedly under federal protection,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico representative. “Authorities must do everything in their power to curb this impunity in attacks on the press, bring the culprits in Pablo Morrugares’ murder to justice, and guarantee the safety of reporters it has committed to protect.”

Morrugares, the founder and editor of news website PM Noticias, was attacked shortly before 1:00 a.m. on August 2 in a restaurant in Iguala, some 120 miles south of Mexico City in the state of Guerrero, according to a statement the Guerrero state prosecutor’s office posted on its Facebook page yesterday.

The statement said that two heavily armed men entered the restaurant and fired more than 50 rounds at Morrugares, who died instantly. A police officer assigned to Morrugares as part of a federal protection program also died in the attack. The gunmen left the scene immediately after.

PM Noticias covers general news, local and regional politics, and crime and security in Iguala and the state of Guerrero. Most recently, the website published stories about violence in the state, political events, and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on Guerrero.

Several attempts by CPJ to reach PM Noticias for comment by message and telephone went unanswered.

Before founding PM Noticias, Morrugares worked as a spokesperson for the Iguala municipal government during the administration of José Luis Abarca. The former mayor was arrested on November 4, 2014, for his alleged involvement in the mass abduction and suspected assassination of 43 students from a Guerrero rural teachers’ college on September 26 of that year.

In 2016, Morrugares and his wife were targets of an attack by unidentified gunmen in Iguala, according to news reports. Following the attack, the reporter was placed in a protection program overseen by the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which operates under the auspices of the federal Interior Secretariat (Segob).

An official of the Mechanism, who asked to remain anonymous as he is not authorized to speak on the matter, told CPJ today that his institution relocated the journalist to a safe house at an undisclosed location in 2018, where he stayed under federal protection until the end of 2019. The official said that Morrugares returned to Iguala at his own request in January of this year and was assigned two state police officers as bodyguards, one of whom died in this week’s attack.

The Federal Mechanism condemned the murder in a statement posted on Segob’s website on August 2.

Omar Bello Pineda, a journalist from Guerrero and spokesperson for the Mexican Association of Displaced and Attacked Journalists, told CPJ today that Morrugares had been threatened in a video on Facebook, posted approximately two months ago, allegedly by a criminal gang active in the Iguala area. His association tweeted on August 2 that the reporter had also been threatened last month on a so-called ‘narcomanta,’ a banner typically used by criminal gangs in Mexico to convey messages to rivals, the authorities, and the public. Bello said several other local reporters were also named in both the video and the banner.

CPJ was unable to independently confirm the existence of the video or the banner, nor identify the other reporters allegedly mentioned in both.

Mexico is the deadliest country in the Western Hemisphere for journalists, according to CPJ research. At least two journalists have been murdered in 2020 in direct retaliation for their work, including Jorge Miguel Armenta Ávalos, who was also enrolled in the federal protection program and accompanied by bodyguards. CPJ is investigating a third killing to determine the motive.