Mexico City, March 22, 2021 – Mexican authorities must thoroughly investigate the disappearance of journalist Jorge Molontzín Centlal, determine if his disappearance is related to his work, and do everything in their power to return him to safety, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Molontzín, a reporter with the magazine Confidencial, went missing on March 10 while he was driving near the municipality of Santa Ana, in the northern state of Sonora, according to a statement published by Confidencial on March 17.
Confidencial editor José Alfredo Gaston Gastelum told CPJ in a phone interview that he last spoke with Molontzín in the morning of March 10, when the reporter told him that he was driving a red Nissan SUV from the town of Benjamín Hill to Santa Ana. The journalist was accompanied by a friend, horticulturalist Eudocio Cruz, whose whereabouts are also unknown, he said.
Lazaro Molontzín, a lawyer and the reporter’s nephew, told CPJ in a phone interview that Molontzín checked in with his family at about 2 p.m. on the day he went missing, and has not been heard from since.
Lupita Orduño, a spokesperson for the Sonora state prosecutor’s office, told CPJ via messaging app that her office has opened an investigation into the disappearance.
“Mexican authorities must do everything in their power to locate journalist Jorge Molontzín Centlal, apprehend those responsible for his disappearance, and determine whether he was targeted for his work as a member of the press,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico representative. “Far too many journalists have gone missing in Mexico, and Molontzín’s disappearance underscores the country’s need to thoroughly investigate such attacks.”
Molontzín has worked for 12 years at Confidencial, a news website and weekly magazine that circulates in the Sonora town of Caborca, according to Gaston Gastelum. He said Molontzín mostly reports on public works, local politics, and social events in towns in the Sonoran Desert, including Santa Ana.
Gaston Gastelum added that Molontzín does not work full-time for the magazine, and also works as a salesman in the area. He said that Molontzín did not travel to Santa Ana to focus on a particular story.
“He often travels to the area [around Santa Ana] to sell products like car windshields or sacks of potatoes,” he said. “He takes advantage of these trips to check in with local authorities about events or public works, which he writes about for the magazine.”
Gaston Gastelum said that most of Molontzín’s reporting was only in print; CPJ was unable to review a print version of Confidencial featuring Molontzín’s recent stories.
Confidencial’s recent news stories on its website focus on local government issues in Sonora and the COVID-19 pandemic, including summaries of government news releases and press conferences.
Gaston Gastelum said the magazine “mostly stopped publishing stories about crime” after it received threats over its coverage several years ago. He did not elaborate on those threats but said that the magazine had not received any recently. He added that he was unaware of any threats specifically targeting Molontzín.
An official of the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which operates under the auspices of the federal interior secretariat and provides protective measures to journalists, told CPJ that the office had not been in contact with Mozontlín in the past and was unaware of any threats against him or Confidencial. The official asked CPJ to remain anonymous, as they are not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
The region including the Benjamín Hill and Santa Ana municipalities has, in recent months, seen a number of violent shootouts between alleged members of criminal gangs, according to news reports. According to the regional newspaper Sol de Hermosillo, the number of murders in Sonora increased by 17 percent in 2020 compared to the year before, with much of the violence attributed to clashes between criminal gangs and authorities.
Mexico is the deadliest country in the Western Hemisphere for journalists. At least five reporters were murdered in direct relation to their work in 2020, according to CPJ research, including Sonoran reporter Jorge Miguel Armenta Ávalos. CPJ is investigating whether four others, including Sonoran journalist Jesús Alfonso Piñuelas, were killed because of their work.