Mexican journalist Heber López was recently shot and killed in Oaxaca after publishing an article accusing a former official of corruption. (Screenshot: Imagen Noticias/YouTube)

Mexican journalist Heber López shot and killed in Oaxaca, suspects arrested

Mexico City, February 12, 2022 – Mexican authorities must thoroughly and transparently investigate the killing of journalist Heber López Vásquez, determine whether he was targeted for his work, and ensure those responsible are brought to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Saturday.

In the afternoon of Thursday, February 10, a group of at least two men shot and killed López as he was about to enter a home in the coastal city of Salina Cruz, in Oaxaca state, according to news reports and information provided to CPJ by César González, a spokesperson for the Oaxaca state prosecutor’s office.

The men fled the scene, and municipal police officers chased and arrested the suspected shooters shortly after the attack, González told CPJ. Oaxaca State Prosecutor Arturo Peimbert told the La Jornada newspaper that he could not provide details on a possible motive in the killing, but did not rule out López’s journalism.

López, founder and editor of the NoticiasWeb news website, is the fifth member of the press killed in Mexico in less than six weeks. Reporters José Luis Gamboa and Lourdes Maldonado, photographer Margarito Martínez, and media worker Roberto Toledo in Zitácuaro have all been killed since mid-January.

“With the brutal killing of Heber López, the fifth such attack in less than six weeks, Mexico continues an unprecedented and shocking string of deadly attacks against journalists,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico representative. “These killings will only stop with genuine, decisive actions by Mexican authorities, who must determine whether López was killed because of his work and bring all those involved to justice.”

López, 39, founded and edited NoticiasWeb and RCP Noticias, and previously worked as reporter for the Meganoticias broadcaster, according to Oaxaca-based news website Página 3, which said he had worked as a journalist for about 18 years.

NoticiasWeb and RCP Noticias both publish most of their reporting on their Facebook pages, and have about 135,000 followers in total. Both outlets cover general news, politics, crime, corruption, and security in the region. NoticiasWeb recently covered a scuffle between supporters of political parties, the detention of undocumented migrants, and an accident that killed a worker. RCP Noticias recently posted stories about the arrest of a local police commander and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The day before his killing, López published a short article accusing Arminda Espinosa Cartas, a former municipal official in Salina Cruz, of corruption, and alleged that she tried to coerce locals to vote for her in municipal elections due to be held next month.

Multiple news articles published on February 11 identified one of the arrested suspects as Espinosa Cartas’ brother, only identified as “Ricardo N.” When CPJ asked González if that reporting was accurate, he declined to comment.

CPJ messaged Espinosa Cartas at her Facebook account for comment, but did not receive any reply. CPJ was unable to find any public statements by Espinosa Cartas or the two suspects.

When CPJ called López’s brother, who is also a journalist, he asked not to be identified by name out of concern for his safety, and said he could not comment on whether his brother had received any threats over his work.

On Friday, Mexican federal undersecretary for Human Rights Alejandro Encinas wrote on his Twitter account that the government’s Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists was including López’s family in a protection program.

Mexico is the deadliest country for journalists in the Western Hemisphere, according to CPJ research. At least three journalists were killed in direct relation to their work in 2021 alone. CPJ is investigating another eleven killings in 2021 and 2022, as well as the disappearance of a reporter in Sonora last year, to determine whether they were related to the journalists’ work.