The body of Rafael Murúa Manríquez, 34, was found on January 20, 2019, near an expressway approximately 25 miles north of Santa Rosalía, in the northern Mexican state of Baja California Sur, according to news reports. The Baja California Sur state prosecutor’s office released a statement to the press via WhatsApp on January 21, which said that Murúa’s body exhibited several wounds, without specifying what kind of weapon might have inflicted them. The statement made no mention of a possible motive for the murder or whether authorities had any leads on who was responsible.
Murúa had been the director of Radiokashana FM, a community radio station in Santa Rosalía, since 2016, when the broadcaster obtained a federal license. He had become involved in the project the year before, according to Irina Vázquez, who heads the Mexican chapter of the World Association of Community Broadcasters (AMARC), an international umbrella organization of community radio stations.
Radiokoshana’s website is currently offline and CPJ was unable to retrieve its recent broadcasts, although the station is still active.
The journalist had reported receiving threats several times in recent years, according to news reports, and since 2017 was enrolled a protection program sanctioned by the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which operates under the auspices of the Secretariat of the Interior.
According to a joint statement released on January 21 by the Mexican chapters of AMARC and press freedom group Article 19, Murúa had last been in touch with a family member in the evening of January 19. At 2 a.m. on January 20, the same family member was told that the reporter had been abducted. The identities of the family member and whoever informed them of Murúa’s abduction were withheld in the statement, citing concern for their safety.
Murúa was assigned protective measures by the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists in June 2017, after he received threatening messages from an alleged member of a criminal gang, according to the joint statement. The statement said that the threats focused on his reporting on a local criminal case and demanded that he publish negative articles about the Mexican navy, which is heavily involved in combating organized crime.
On November 14, 2018, Murúa wrote in a blog post that he had received death threats from an official in the municipal government of Mulegé, a town in Baja California Sur, after he criticized Mulegé Mayor Felipe Prado’s security policies on his personal Facebook page on October 29.
Calls by CPJ to the Mulegé municipal government for comment went unanswered.
On January 27, 2020, the Baja California Sur State Attorney General’s office announced that three suspects in the murder case had been found guilty of carrying out the murder. The three men, Perdo, Martín, and Héctor “N” (their last names have been withheld by authorities to protect their privacy) were arrested individually between January and April 2019. The men were sentenced to more than 40 years in jail on January 31, according to news reports. A fourth suspect, José Guadalupe “N,” was arrested in September 2019 for allegedly ordering the murder, according to news reports. He is still awaiting trial.
Although Baja California Sur state authorities have not publicly revealed details about the motive of the murder, several journalists in the state with knowledge of the trial proceedings told CPJ, on condition of anonymity to guarantee their safety, that the convicted killers murdered Murúa over an altercation due to a traffic accident. The reporters said that this information was revealed during the trial proceedings by the state public prosecutor’s office. They were unable to confirm to CPJ whether there were any other witnesses. Several calls by CPJ to reach the Baja California Sur state public prosecutor’s office for comment remain unanswered.
However, AMARC director Irina Vázquez told CPJ on January 28, 2020, that Murúa’s killers already knew about his work as a reporter and that they were likely already hostile to him. “The traffic incident possibly set them off,” she said, adding that she based this suspicion on conversations with local sources in Baja California Sur.
An official from the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists confirmed to CPJ on January 21, 2019, that Murúa was enrolled in a protection program. The official declined to provide additional details about the nature of the protective measures, and asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak on the matter. Such programs provide journalists with a variety of protective measures such as bodyguards, a panic button, and security systems at their residences and offices.