A view of the municipal dock in Guaymas in the northern state of Sonora, Mexico, as pictured on September 23, 2003. Journalist Ricardo López was shot and killed in Guaymas. (AP Photo/EduardoVerdugo)

Mexican journalist Ricardo López shot and killed in Sonora

Mexico City, July 28, 2021 – The Committee to Protect Journalist today urged Mexican authorities to immediately and credibly investigate the killing of reporter Ricardo Domínguez López, who went professionally by Ricardo López.

López, the founder and editor of news website InfoGuaymas, was shot and killed in the late afternoon on July 22, his 47th birthday, by an unknown assailant using a .38 caliber handgun in a parking lot of a convenience store in the city of Guaymas, in the northern Mexican state of Sonora, according to news reports and the Sonora state prosecutor (FGJE), who spoke to regional newspaper El Imparcial.

In a statement on FGJE’s Facebook page, state prosecutor Claudia Indira Contreras said that her office is investigating whether López was targeted because of his work as a journalist.

“The brazen and brutal killing of Mexican journalist Ricardo López, in broad daylight on his birthday, cements Sonora’s woeful status as one of the most violent states for reporters in a country where impunity in crimes against the press reigns supreme,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico representative. “Unless state and federal authorities become serious about protecting reporters and pursuing their killers, these attacks will continue at an alarming pace.”

On March 29, López told reporters in a press conference, a video of which was published on the Facebook page of Sonora outlet Agencia ICE Cazando la noticia, that he had received death threats from criminal gangs over his reporting, but did not say which publications may have provoked the threats. He also said he was subject to a smear campaign when local police in Guaymas used a Facebook page to falsely accuse him of having ties to organized crime.

CPJ was unable to locate the Facebook page López referred to in the news conference, but two reporters based in the region who knew López personally and asked to remain anonymous due to security concerns confirmed the existence of the page via phone. They also told CPJ that journalists in the region, especially those who cover crime and security, are often subject to threats and violence by criminal gangs.

CPJ called the Guaymas local police several times but no one picked up.

CPJ was unable to determine whether López’s killing was related to the threats he described in the press conference or what, if any, of his works of journalism may have drawn the attention of his killers. InfoGuaymas, a news website with a Facebook page counting more than 300,000 followers, covers a broad range of topics including municipal, state, national, and international news as well as crime and security. According to CPJ’s review of the website, the majority of the articles have no byline; the most recent article carrying López’s name was published on July 17 and covered the regional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, he covered a deadly shootout in Guaymas in a video posted on InfoGuaymas’ Facebook page.

Before founding the website, he contributed reporting to television broadcaster Televisa Sonora, radio station Grupo Larsa, and newspaper Diario Yaqui, according to news reports. At the time of his death he was president of the local Association of Independent Journalists in Guaymas and Empalme, the reports said.

CPJ sent several messages to InfoGuaymas’ editorial staff via messaging app and email, but did not receive any replies.

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 government-sanctioned protection to journalists at risk of violence, did not answer several telephone calls by CPJ to determine whether the agency was aware of threats against López’s life and whether he was enrolled in a government protection program. CPJ called FGJE several times but no one picked up.  

CPJ has documented several recent violent incidents against journalists in Sonora. Last year, at least two reporters, Jorge Armenta and Jesús Alfonso Piñuelas, were killed in the municipality of Cajeme, while unknown attackers firebombed the car of another reporter, Marco Antonio Duarte Vargas, in Ciudad Obregón. On March 17, journalist Jorge Molontzín disappeared in Santa Ana, a town in Sonora near the border with the United States. According to CPJ research, Mexico is the deadliest country in the Western Hemisphere for journalists.

According to news reports, the number of murders in Sonora has soared in recent years, especially in the region bordering the United States in the north and the coastal region south of the state capital of Hermosillo, where the municipalities of Guaymas, Empalme, and Cajeme are located, due to territorial disputes involving criminal gangs.