Mexico City, May 11, 2021 – Mexican authorities must immediately undertake a swift, credible, and transparent investigation into the killing of independent reporter Benjamín Morales, and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
In the evening of May 2, Morales’ family lost contact with the journalist in Sonoyta, a small town in the northern Mexican state of Sonora; in the morning of May 3, local police found the journalist’s abandoned vehicle and then found his body, which had several gunshot wounds, according to news reports and a Facebook post by Sonoyta en Movimiento, a local reporters collective.
Police said that a piece of cardboard with “a message” had been left with the journalist’s body, but did not disclose the contents of that message, according to Sonoran newspaper El Imparcial.
“The brutal killing of journalist Benjamín Morales is yet another case of extreme violence against the press in the Mexican state of Sonora, which is rapidly becoming one of the most violence places in what is already the deadliest country for journalists in the western hemisphere,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico representative. “Sonoran authorities must conduct a serious investigation into this killing, determine if it was related to Morales’ work, and hold the perpetrators to account.”
Morales founded Noticias Xonoidag, a Facebook news page with about 14,000 followers, where he posted video reporting and commentary on current events in the Sonoyta area; he recently posted videos of traffic accidents, sports events, a fire at a local landfill, and commentary on local politics.
On May 1, Morales uploaded a video to Noticias Xonoidag commenting on the upcoming June 6 mayoral, gubernatorial, and national elections. In the video, he mentioned having received anonymous threats on his Facebook page, but did not elaborate on the nature of the threats.
CPJ sent several requests for comment via messaging app to the Sonora state prosecutor’s office, but did not receive any replies.
An official of the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which provides federally sanctioned protection programs to journalists threatened and at risk due to their work, told CPJ that the institution had not been made aware of threats to Morales, and had not communicated with the reporter prior to his death. The official spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, as they are not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
CPJ was unable to locate contact information of Morales’ family, and Sonoyta en Movimiento did not respond to CPJ’s inquiries sent via its Facebook page.
Sonora has recently seen a surge in violence; according to news reports, the annual number of homicides in the state rose by at least 17 percent in 2020.
Reporter Jorge Armenta of Medios Obson was murdered in the Sonoran city of Cajeme in May 2020; CPJ is investigating the November killing in Cajeme of another reporter, Jesús Alfonso Piñuelas of Zarathustra Press El Shock de la Noticia. On March 17, 2021, journalist Jorge Molontzín of the magazine Confidencial went missing in the town of Santa Ana, as CPJ has documented.
Mexico is the deadliest country in the western hemisphere. According to CPJ research, at least five journalists were killed in direct relation to their work in 2020, and CPJ is investigating four other cases to determine whether they were killed for their journalism.