Candles and a photograph of Margarito Martínez are displayed at a journalists' vigil honoring the Mexican photojournalist, who was killed outside his home by unknown assailants in Tijuana on January 17, 2022 - Reuters/Jorge Duenes

Mexican photojournalist Margarito Martínez shot and killed in Tijuana

Mexico City, January 22, 2022 – Mexican authorities must thoroughly investigate the killing of Mexican journalist Margarito Martínez and determine whether it was related to his job as a reporter, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Saturday. Martínez, a freelance photographer, was shot and killed at his residence in Tijuana, in the northern Mexican border state of Baja California on January 17 by unknown assailants, according to news reports.

According to a statement published on its Facebook page by the Baja California state prosecutor’s office (FGE), Martínez was ambushed just after noon at his residence in Tijuana, a coastal city just across the border from San Diego in California. An unidentified gunman shot the reporter multiple times and fled the scene; Martínez died before he could be rushed to a hospital.

According to a colleague and close friend of Martínez, who spoke with CPJ on Wednesday by phone, the photographer had returned briefly to his home from an assignment earlier that day and was about to head out again to take more photos from another area when he was ambushed. The colleague told CPJ that he did not know what Martínez been photographing. The colleague requested anonymity out of concern for his safety.

“With the shocking killing of Margarito Martínez, just days after his colleague José Luis Gamboa was stabbed to death in Veracruz, any hope that Mexico may become a safer place for reporters is evaporating,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico Representative. “The country cemented its abysmal status last year as the deadliest country for journalists in the Western hemisphere and nothing will change unless Mexican authorities make it a priority to ensure that reporters in the country aren’t killed with impunity.”

Alfonso Margarito Martínez Esquivel, 49, was a veteran photographer with over two decades of experience as a reporter in Tijuana, a city that, according to news reports, in recent years has become one of the most violent in Mexico. A freelancer specializing in photographing crime scenes, he worked for both Mexican and foreign news outlets. His photos appeared, among other media, in local news weekly Zeta Tijuana, newspaper La Jornada de Baja California and on news website Cadena Noticias.

Several phone calls by CPJ to reach La Jornada de Baja California and Cadena Noticias for comment were not answered. An editor at Zeta Tijuana agreed to speak with CPJ, but had not returned the call by the time of publication.

According to Martinez’ friend and another colleague, who also asked to remain anonymous as her newspaper does not allow her to give interviews, Martínez had reported threats on several occasions over the past few years and had reached out to state and federal authorities in December after an altercation with the publisher of a Facebook site known for publishing images of violent incidents. The altercation was filmed and posted on the Facebook site, which has more than 120,000 followers.    

According to his colleagues, Martínez felt threatened and intimidated by the publication of the video and had reported the incident to the Baja California state institution for the protection of journalists, which in turn referred him to the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which operates under the auspices of the federal government in Mexico City.

On January 19, the Baja California public prosecutor’s office (FGE announced on Facebook that it had searched the residence of a person identified as Ángel “N” as part of its  ongoing investigation into the murder and arrested him for possession of marijuana. 

CPJ was unable to find contact information for Ángel “N” or his legal counsel and several attempts by CPJ to reach the FGE by telephone for comment remain unanswered.

An official of the Mechanism confirmed to CPJ that his agency had been in touch with Martínez on several occasions since December and that it had sent him several forms to enable his inclusion in a protection program, but that Martínez had stopped responding. The official asked to remain anonymous, as he is not authorized to speak on the matter.

Mexico is the deadliest country in the Western Hemisphere for journalists, according to CPJ research. In 2021, at least three reporters were killed in direct relation to their work. CPJ is investigating six other deaths to determine the motive.