In the afternoon of February 10, 2022, a group of at least two men shot and killed Mexican journalist Heber López Vásquez 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, 39, founded and edited the NoticiasWeb and RCP Noticias news websites, 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.
In the weeks before the murder, NoticiasWeb covered a scuffle between supporters of political parties, the detention of undocumented migrants, and an accident that killed a worker. RCP Noticias posted stories about the arrest of a local police commander and the COVID-19 pandemic in that same period.
The day before his killing, López published a short article on NoticiasWeb 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 after the killing identified one of the arrested suspects as Espinosa Cartas’ brother, named only as “Ricardo N.”
López’s brother, who spoke to CPJ on the condition that his name not be released, citing concern for his safety, said that he believed the journalist was killed in retaliation for that article accusing Espinosa Cartas of corruption.
According to several news reports, López had reported threats against him in 2019, but the reports did not specify the nature of the threats. López’s brother told CPJ that he did not know the exact nature of those threats.
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.
On February 11, 2022, Mexico’s 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.