Police officers are seen in Valle de Chalco, in the state of Mexico, on June June 3, 2020. Journalist Maria Teresa Montaño Delgado was recently robbed and abducted in Mexico state. (Reuters/Luis Cortes)

Mexican reporter Maria Teresa Montaño abducted, robbed, and threatened in Toluca

Mexico City, August 19, 2021 – Mexican authorities must immediately investigate the abduction and robbery of journalist Maria Teresa Montaño Delgado and take all necessary steps to guarantee her safety, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On the afternoon of August 13, three unidentified men abducted Montaño, a freelance investigative reporter, as she attempted to board a public bus in a suburb of Toluca, the capital of the state of Mexico, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.

The men held Montaño at gunpoint, blindfolded her, and brought her to several ATMs where they forced her to withdraw money; they then commandeered her car, drove to her residence, and stole her phone, laptop, voice recorder, tablet, and a box carrying personal documents and notebooks she used for her work, the journalist told CPJ.

The men threatened to kill Montaño if she reported the crime, and then drove her to the outskirts of Toluca, where they left her and stole her car; they detained her for about three hours in total, she said.

“The abduction, robbery, and death threats that Mexican journalist Maria Teresa Montaño was subjected to, in broad daylight, demonstrate the brutal violence that reporters face in the country,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico representative. “Authorities in the state of Mexico must immediately provide protection to Montaño and bring the perpetrators of this attack to justice.”

Montaño is a freelance journalist based in Toluca who works as the editor of The Observer, a website that investigates alleged corruption, abuse of power, and wasteful spending in Mexico state, and publishes fact-checks of statements given by state and national politicians. She also covers politics in the state for Proceso, a Mexico City-based weekly magazine.

The Observer has recently reported on alleged irregularities in the finances of Mexico state’s government and a state official shelving an investigation into alleged corruption by state officials. The website has also published fact-checks of speeches given by public officials of many different political parties, including President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Mexico state Governor Alfredo Del Mazo.

In Proceso, she has covered a wide range of topics, including COVID-19 in Mexico state and an attack by an organized crime group on a local mayor.

Montaño told CPJ that, at the time of her abduction, she was working on a corruption investigation involving state officials. She said the men who abducted her stole notes and files concerning that investigation.

“They took everything that I use to work, all my equipment, documents, files, my cellphone, and my car,” Montaño told CPJ. “One of the men knew that I was a journalist. It wasn’t a question, he said it as a statement: ‘You’re a journalist.’”

Montaño said she did not know how the men knew she was a journalist. She said the kidnappers were talking with other people on their phones during the incident, who may have identified her. She said the men also could have looked through her journalistic work at her house, but added that she did not know if they did so because she was blindfolded.

Montaño told CPJ that state officials have repeatedly responded with hostility to The Observer’s work, including by denying her access to press briefings and by pressuring other officials to limit their contact with her.

She told CPJ that she had not previously received death threats over her work.

Montaño said she reported the incident to the Mexico state prosecutor’s office on the day of the abduction. When CPJ contacted Claudio Barrera, a spokesperson for that office, via messaging app yesterday, he acknowledged receiving CPJ’s questions and said that he would look into it. He had not replied as of today.

An official with the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which coordinates federally sanctioned protection programs for reporters, told CPJ that the agency had contacted Montaño and would incorporate her into a protection scheme. The official declined to provide details about the nature of possible protective measures that will be assigned to the reporter, citing her safety and privacy. The official asked not to be named, as they are not authorized to comment on the issue.

Mexico is the most dangerous country in the western hemisphere for journalists. According to CPJ research, at least two journalists have been killed in direct relation to their work in the country this year.

CPJ is investigating two other killings to determine the motive, as well the March 10 disappearance of reporter Jorge Molontzín in the state of Sonora.