Mexico: Intimidation of lawyers defending journalists

The Board of the ARTICLE 19 Office for Mexico and Central America views with concern and indignation the order of the Eighth District Civil Judge and the Fifth Circuit Court to call the lawyers of this organization involved in the lawsuit filed by Jesús Ortega Martínez against the journalist Sanjuana Martínez Montemayor to testify. We the members of the Board consider this decision an act of intimidation against defence lawyers representing journalists being sued for libel.

ARTICLE 19 joined Sanjuana Martínez’s defence team to support the application for a judicial review (amparo) after the courts of Mexico City ruled against her in the main trial. The application for a judicial review (amparo) was brought before the Eighth District Civil Judge.

While this organisation accepts the judicial decision against Sanjuana Martínez, it considers an act of harassment by those federal courts the fact that, at the request of Jesús Ortega, lawyers of this organization have been summoned for a court appearance in which they could be forced to violate professional secrecy.

At least seven lawyers took part in the application for a judicial review brought by Sanjuana Martínez, yet the court summons was only addressed to the Regional Director of ARTICLE 19, Ana Cristina Ruelas Serna, and the Protection and Defence Programme Officer, Leopoldo Maldonado Gutiérrez. We consider that the citation against those specific persons and not the other members of the defence team constitutes an act of intimidation against the organization.

The ARTICLE 19 Board condemns these judicial summons as it is unlawful for a judge to request evidence from lawyers representing one of the parties in a case, since it creates a procedural imbalance. We interpret this decision as an attempt to deter the legal defence work that this organization undertakes in support of journalists.

Moreover, as this is a case that involves a prominent member of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), which is currently governing Mexico City, it is inevitable to suspect that this is an act of pressure by the authorities of the country’s capital, validated by the Federal Judiciary.

Therefore, we demand an end to judicial harassment against legal professionals dedicated to defending the principle of freedom of expression.