A crime scene is seen in Mexico City on June 26, 2020. Journalist Jaime Castaño was recently killed in Zacatecas state. (Reuters/Henry Romero)

Mexican journalist Jaime Castaño shot dead after photographing crime scene

Mexico City, December 15, 2020 – Mexican authorities must immediately undertake a swift, credible, and transparent investigation into the killing of photojournalist Jaime Castaño, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

At about 10 a.m. on December 9, unidentified gunmen shot and killed Castaño, founder of the news website Prensa Libre MX, while he was driving his motorcycle in Jerez, in the central Mexican state of Zacatecas, according to news reports.

Shortly before the attack, Castaño had dismounted his motorcycle to photograph the bodies of two shooting victims on the side of a highway between Fresnillo and Jerez, when an unidentified young man confronted him and demanded he delete those photos, an anonymous witness told Mexico City newspaper La Jornada.

Castaño refused to delete the photos and then left the scene; soon afterwards, a car overtook him and people inside shot the journalist several times, killing him, according to La Jornada and those news reports.

Police sources told the news website Zacatecas Online that unidentified people took Castaño’s camera memory card from the scene before authorities arrived.

“The brutal killing of Jaime Castaño is yet another example of the dangers Mexican journalists face on a daily basis,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico representative. “Mexican authorities can no longer turn their back on reporters in the country, and must immediately undertake a swift, credible, and transparent investigation into Castaño’s killing and all bring those responsible to justice.”

Prensa Libre MX, an independent news website that Castaño ran by himself, published news primarily about government programs by the Jerez municipality and the state of Zacatecas, and not on crime or killings in the area, according to CPJ’s review of its recent coverage.

Castaño also worked as a photographer for the Jerez municipal government’s public relations department, and had previously contributed to other local news outlets, according to those news reports and Irene Mejía and Alfredo Valadez, two journalists from Zacatecas familiar with Castaño’s work, who spoke with CPJ. They said they did not know which specific local outlets Castaño had contributed to.

Valadez, who also reported on the journalist’s death for La Jornada, told CPJ that Castaño was on his way back from covering a municipal government event when he was attacked.

Valadez told CPJ that Zacatecas in general and Jerez in particular have recently seen a surge in violence perpetrated by criminal gangs. According to his reports in La Jornada, at least 19 people were killed on December 8 and 9, including Castaño.

CPJ called the Jerez municipality and the Zacatecas state prosecutor’s office several times, but no one answered.

Mexico is one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists. According to CPJ research, at least five journalists were killed in the country this year in direct relation to their work.