National Guard soldiers are seen in Oaxaca, Mexico, on June 24, 2020. Journalist Gustavo Sánchez Cabrera was recently shot and killed in Oaxaca. (Reuters/Jose de Jesus Cortes)

Mexican reporter Gustavo Sánchez shot and killed in Oaxaca

Mexico City, June 22, 2021 – Mexican authorities should conduct a swift, thorough, and transparent investigation into the killing of journalist Gustavo Sánchez Cabrera, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

At about 8 a.m. on June 17, two unidentified people driving a car near the town of Morro Mazatán, in the southern state of Oaxaca, crashed into Sánchez while he was traveling on a motorcycle with his 15-year-old son, according to news reports and a report by the municipal police in Tehuantepec, who are investigating the case, which CPJ reviewed.

Sánchez and his son fell from the motorcycle, and the men then exited their car and shot and killed Sánchez, according to those sources. The police report stated that at least 15 9-millimeter bullet casings were found at the scene of the crime, and the news website Animal Político stated that the journalist received at least one gunshot to the head. 

His son sustained mild injuries in the fall from the motorcycle but was not shot, according to those reports. 

Sánchez, a reporter for the Panorama Pacífico Facebook-based news outlet in the Oaxacan coastal city of Huatulco, was enrolled in a federal protection program after surviving an attempt on his life last year, according to those reports.

“Journalist Gustavo Sánchez’s killing while under federal protection is a testament to the Mexican government’s shocking inability to protect members of the press from harm,” said CPJ Mexico Representative Jan-Albert Hootsen. “Mexican authorities must not only determine whether Sánchez was killed for his work and bring the perpetrators to justice, but also urgently review their protection programs for reporters and human rights defenders.”

In a statement released on June 17, the Oaxaca state prosecutor’s office said that it had opened an investigation in the killing, but not provide any details about potential leads or the motive for the attack. CPJ repeatedly called Oaxaca State Prosecutor Arturo Peimbert for comment, but no one answered.

Sánchez covered crime and politics in the Tehuantepec Istmus region for Panorama Pacífico and on his personal Facebook page Noticias Minuto a Minuto, where he had about 600 followers; he recently covered flooding and protests in the region, local killings, and corruption allegations against local officials. 

Sánchez survived an attempt on his life on July 13, 2020, when unidentified gunmen shot him near Morro Mazatán, and he was treated at a local hospital, according to those news reports and video that Sánchez recorded at the time. 

Several news outlets also reported that Sánchez had received death threats in recent months but did not provide details on the nature of those threats. 

Enrique Irazoque Palazuelos, the head of the Human Rights Units of the federal Secretary for the Interior, confirmed to CPJ that Sánchez had been enrolled in a protection program with the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which he supervises, after last year’s attack on his life. 

Irazoque confirmed reports that Sánchez was supposed to receive police protection in the weeks up to his killing, but said that the protection had not yet arrived. He told CPJ that he had begun an internal investigation into why Sánchez had not received the protection assigned to him by the mechanism. 

Irazoque added that he sent a letter to the National Human Rights Commission on June 18, requesting recommendations for handling the case.

Sánchez’s employer and his family did not respond to phone calls from CPJ seeing comment.

Mexico is the deadliest country for journalists in the Western Hemisphere, according to CPJ research. On March 10, journalist Jorge Molontzín disappeared in the northern state of Sonora. CPJ is also investigating the killing of reporter Benjamín Morales, whose body was found in that state on May 3, to determine whether his death was related to his work as a journalist.