In the evening of May 2, 2021, the family of journalist Benjamín Morales Hernández lost contact with him in Sonoyta, a small town in the northern Mexican state of Sonora; in the morning of May 3, local police found Morales’ abandoned vehicle and then found his body, which had several gunshot wounds, according to news reports and a Facebook post by Sonoyta en Movimiento, a local reporters collective.
Police said that a piece of cardboard with “a message” had been left with the journalist’s body, but did not disclose the contents of that message, according to Sonoran newspaper El Imparcial.
Morales founded Noticias Xonoidag, a Facebook news page with about 14,000 followers, where he posted video reporting and commentary on current events in the Sonoyta area; he recently posted videos of traffic accidents, sports events, a fire at a local landfill, and commentary on local politics.
On May 1, Morales had uploaded a video to Noticias Xonoidag commenting on the upcoming June 6, 2021, mayoral, gubernatorial, and national elections in Mexico. In the video, he mentioned having received anonymous threats on his Facebook page, but did not elaborate on the nature of the threats.
CPJ sent several requests for comment via messaging app to the Sonora state prosecutor’s office, but did not receive any replies.
An official of the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which provides federally sanctioned protection programs to journalists threatened and at risk due to their work, told CPJ that the institution had not been made aware of threats to Morales, and had not communicated with the reporter prior to his death. The official spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, as they are not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
CPJ was unable to locate contact information of Morales’ family, and Sonoyta en Movimiento did not respond to CPJ’s inquiries sent via its Facebook page.