Journalists in Guadalajara, Mexico, hold images of Lourdes Maldonado, Margarito Martínez and José Luis Gamboa during nationwide protests against the murders of the three reporters (ULISES RUIZ / AFP)

‘Ongoing brutality’: Lourdes Maldonado third journalist killed in Mexico in less than a month

Mexico City, January 25, 2022 – Mexican authorities must immediately and thoroughly investigate the killing of reporter Lourdes Maldonado López, determine whether she was attacked in direct relation to her work and bring her attackers to justice. Maldonado, a veteran broadcast journalist, was shot dead in Tijuana, a city bordering the United States in the northern Mexican state of Baja California, in the evening of January 23, according to news reports.

Maldonado was the second journalist in that city to be killed in less than a week and the third Mexican reporter killed this year. On January 17, another Tijuana journalist, Alfonso Margarito Martínez Esquivel, was also shot dead and on January 10 the body of José Luis Gamboa was found in Veracruz.

“The brutal killing of Lourdes Maldonado is horrifying, especially given that Mexican journalists have not even had time to process last week’s murder of photographer Margarito Martínez,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico Representative. “The ongoing brutality against the journalists in this country is a direct consequence of the authorities’ unwillingness and inability to combat the festering impunity that fuels these killings.”

Hiram Sánchez, the prosecutor of the Baja California state attorney general’s office (FGE) assigned to Maldonado’s case, told CPJ in a telephone conversation on Monday that the reporter was attacked at approximately 7.00 pm local time at her residence in the Santa Fe neighborhood of Tijuana, just across the border from San Diego. She had returned home moments before and was still in her vehicle when she was attacked.

Maldonado had previously been attacked because of her work and was registered in the Mexican government’s program to protect journalists, according to news reports.

Sánchez told CPJ that there is evidence of at least three men participating in the attack. He added that investigators are still searching for possible camera footage and looking into ballistic evidence to determine the nature of the weapon used to kill her. Last week, the FGE found evidence that the gun used in the murder of Margarito Martínez had been used in at least five other crimes, but Sánchez said that no similar evidence has yet surfaced in the Maldonado murder case.

Tijuana is one of the most violent cities in Mexico. According to federal statistics at least 1,932 people were murdered in the city last year alone, an average of more than five victims per day.

Sánchez said there is still insufficient evidence to determine the motive or the identity of Maldonado’s attackers. He added that his office is looking into all possible leads, including the possibility of the attack being related to Maldonado’s work.

Maria Guadalupe Lourdes Maldonado López was a veteran reporter in Tijuana with years of experience in broadcast journalism. She previously worked as a reporter and anchor for television broadcasters Televisa and Primer Sistema de Notícias (PSN), as well as magazine Séptimo Día, according to news reports and journalist Vicente Calderón of news website Tijuana Press, who spoke with CPJ on Monday by phone. According to Calderón, she mostly covered general news and local politics, and was known for her fierce and sometimes confrontational reporting style.

Maldonado recently began hosting an online radio show called Brebaje, in which she also covered local politics and general news. In her most recent broadcasts, she covered a wide range of topics, including criticism of the creation of a magazine by the Tijuana municipal government, as well as the murder of her colleague Margarito Martínez.

On March 26, 2019, Maldonado traveled to Mexico City and participated in the daily morning press conference of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. She told the president that day that she “feared for her life”, asking his government for protection and mentioning a labor dispute with her former employer PSN, a news outlet owned by Jaime Bonilla, a wealthy and influential businessman who became governor of Baja California later that year. Maldonado was demanding compensation from PSN, which she said had fired her unjustly almost a decade earlier.   

On January 19, a judge ruled in favor of Maldonado. According to news reports, the journalist would have received up to 500,000 pesos (approximately US $25,000) in compensation. Moreover, the reports said, PSN would have had to hand over financial documents and information about payment to its employees to the reporter’s lawyer. CPJ was unable to reach the lawyer.

CPJ also was unable to obtain contact information for Bonilla or one of his legal representatives, but the former governor published a video on his Twitter account on Monday, in which he denied having had a bad relationship with Maldonado or having threatened her. He acknowledged the existence of a labor dispute, but added that it “never elevated to the personal.”

According to news reports, Maldonado was included in a protection program overseen by the Baja California state government, although the exact date of her enrollment was unknown. Prosecutor Sánchez confirmed to CPJ that Maldonado had received some security measures, including regular check-ins by a police patrol car at her Santa Fe residence. 

CPJ reached out to the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which coordinates protection programs for journalists and rights defenders at risk, for comment via messaging app, but did not receive a reply.

Mexico is the deadliest country for journalists in the Western Hemisphere, according to CPJ research. Three journalists were killed there in 2021 because of their work and CPJ is still investigating whether six other deaths in 2021, as well as this year’s killings of Martínez and Gamboa, were related to their work as reporters.