Gustavo Sánchez Cabrera

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Two unidentified men shot and killed journalist Gustavo Sánchez Cabrera near the town of Morro Mazatán, in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, on June 17, 2021.

At about 8 a.m., the two attackers crashed their car into Sánchez while he was traveling on a motorcycle with his 15-year-old son, according to news reports and a report by the municipal police in Tehuantepec, who are investigating the case, which CPJ reviewed. Sánchez and his son fell from the motorcycle, and the men then exited their car and shot and killed Sánchez, according to those sources.

The police report stated that at least 15 9-millimeter bullet casings were found at the scene of the crime, and the news website Animal Político reported that the journalist received at least one gunshot to the head. 

His son sustained mild injuries in the fall from the motorcycle but was not shot, according to those reports. 

Sánchez, a reporter for the Panorama Pacífico Facebook-based news outlet in the Oaxacan coastal city of Huatulco, was enrolled in a federal protection program after surviving an attempt on his life last year, according to those reports.

In a statement released on June 17, 2021, the Oaxaca state prosecutor’s office said it had opened an investigation in the killing, but not provide any details about potential leads or the motive for the attack. CPJ repeatedly called Oaxaca State Prosecutor Arturo Peimbert for comment, but no one answered.

Sánchez covered crime and politics in the Tehuantepec Istmus region for Panorama Pacífico and on his personal Facebook page Noticias Minuto a Minuto, where he had about 600 followers; he recently covered flooding and protests in the region, local killings, and corruption allegations against local officials. 

Sánchez survived an attempt on his life on July 13, 2020, when unidentified gunmen shot him near Morro Mazatán, and he was treated at a local hospital, according to those news reports and video that Sánchez recorded at the time. According to a report in newspaper Milenio, Sánchez had reported the crime to state authorities and alleged that a man named Esteban de la Cruz was responsible for carrying it out by orders of Santo Domingo Tehuantepec Mayor Vilma Martínez over the journalist’s critical reporting on corruption in the local government of Tehuantepec, but had not provided further details. CPJ was unable to find specific reporting by Sánchez about the Tehuantepec municipal government that may have provoked the attack.

CPJ called Martínez several times between July 22 and July 28, but no one answered the phone.

Oaxaca state prosecutor Arturo Peimbert confirmed to CPJ in a July 23, 2021, meeting in Oaxaca’s capital, Oaxaca, that there is a warrant out for Esteban de la Cruz’s arrest over last year’s attack on Sánchez, but that he had fled the Tehuantepec region and that his location is currently unknown. CPJ was unable to find contact information for de la Cruz and was unable to determine whether he currently has a lawyer.

Several news outlets also reported that Sánchez had received death threats in the months prior to his death but did not provide details on the nature of those threats.

Enrique Irazoque Palazuelos, the head of the Human Rights Units of the federal Secretary for the Interior, confirmed to CPJ that Sánchez had been enrolled in a protection program with the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which he supervises, after last year’s attack on his life. 

Irazoque confirmed reports that Sánchez was supposed to receive police protection in the weeks leading up to his killing, but said that the protection had not yet arrived. He told CPJ that he had begun an internal investigation into why Sánchez had not received the protection assigned to him by the mechanism. 

Irazoque added that he sent a letter to the National Human Rights Commission on June 18, requesting recommendations for handling the case.

Sánchez’s employer and his family did not respond to phone calls from CPJ seeking comment.