At about 2 p.m. on May 16, 2020, a group of unidentified men opened fire on Jorge Miguel Armenta Ávalos and two police officers who accompanied him as bodyguards while they were leaving a restaurant in the town of Cajeme, in the northern Mexican state of Sonora, according to news reports.
Armenta and one of the police officers died at the scene, and a second officer was rushed to a hospital and is in serious condition, according to Mexico City newspaper Excélsior.
Armenta and some of the editorial staff of El Tiempo de Medios Obson had received numerous threats in recent years, according to Martín Mendoza, who covers crime at the newspaper, and spoke to CPJ in a phone interview. He said that Armenta had not told him about any specific threats.
“The threats came from criminal gangs in Ciudad Obregón, who don’t like the fact that we consistently publish about murders in the area,” he said, adding that he had “no doubt” that Armenta was killed because of his work.
The local El Sol de México newspaper reported that Armenta had recently received threats from local politicians in the Ciudad Obregón area, but did not specify the nature of the threats. CPJ was unable to find further information on those threats.
Última Palabra and El Tiempo de Medios Obson report on security, politics, and general news in Sonora, with a specific focus on violence in turf wars between criminal gangs, according to CPJ’s review of their coverage.
“We publish precise numbers on how many people are killed every month in Ciudad Obregón,” Mendoza told CPJ. “We’ve never shied away from reporting on violence, but it does increase the risk of becoming a target.”
In 2016, unknown attackers hurled a grenade at the offices of El Tiempo de Medios Obson, after which Armenta and some of his staff were enrolled in a protection scheme coordinated by the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, according to news reports and Mendoza.
The two bodyguards who accompanied Armenta when he was attacked were assigned to him as part of that protection scheme, an official at the mechanism, which operates under the federal Interior Secretariat in Mexico City, told CPJ. The official asked to remain anonymous, as they were not authorized to comment on the issue. The mechanism condemned the attack in a statement published on May 18.
Guadalupe Orduño, a spokesperson for the Sonora state attorney general’s office, told CPJ in a phone interview on May 18 that her office had opened an investigation into the killing.
She said that state authorities have not discarded any possible motive, including Armenta’s work, and that they would request federal assistance if it becomes clear that Armenta was targeted because of his journalism.