Mexico: State must take immediate action after murder of four journalists

Mexico: State must take immediate action after murder of four journalists - Protection

León, Guanajuato, Mexico, 26 January, 2022. Journalists gathered at the emblematic Arco de la Calzada to demand the authorities clarify the murders of journalists. Credit: Dany Bejar/Shutterstock

The year 2022 has already been a deadly one for journalists in Mexico. Four journalists were killed in January: María de Lourdes Maldonado López, José Luis Gamboa Arenas, Alfonso Margarito Martínez Esquivel and Roberto Toledo, who was killed on the last day of the month.

They will now join the list of 145 other murdered journalists since 2000, 28 of which have taken place whilst President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been in office.

On 23 January, Lourdes Maldonado was murdered outside her house in Tijuana. ARTICLE 19’s Mexico and Central America regional office monitors attacks on freedom of expression, including violence against journalists, protests and surveillance. Staff there had worked closely with Lourdes Maldonado and documented two attacks against her vehicle in 2019 and her statement to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador that she feared for her life that same year. The office has also been documenting attacks on Alfonso Margarito Martínez Esquivel since July 2019.

Read the alert about María de Lourdes Maldonado López.

Maldonado’s death followed the recent murders of José Luis Gamboa Arenas, an independent journalist and director of the Facebook page “Inforegio Network” in the port of Veracruz, Veracruz state, and Alfonso Margarito Martínez Esquivel, a freelance photojournalist in Tijuana, Baja California.

ARTICLE condemned the murders and called for the state and federal authorities to urgently prevent attacks, protect journalists when they are victims, and investigate with due diligence crimes committed against the press.

In the last hours of January, Roberto Toledo, a reporter for Monitor Michoacán in Zitácuaro, was also shot dead.

 

José Luis Gamboa, Veracruz

On Monday, 10 January, unidentified individuals murdered José Luis Gamboa, an independent journalist and director of the Facebook group “Inforegio Network” in the neighbourhood of Floresta in the port of Veracruz, Veracruz state. According to information available to the public, the journalist’s body was found with seven stab wounds and, because he was not in possession of any form of identification at the time of his death. authorities were not able to formally identify him until 14 January.

Gamboa covered political stories and alleged links between the authorities and organised crime, as well as violence and instability in Veracruz state. Two of his most recent publications, ‘La Guerra por la Narco Política’ [‘The War for Narco Politics’] and ‘Prospectiva parte 1’ [‘Prospective part 1’], documented violence in the region and criticised the failure to combat it. 

Given that his body could not initially be identified and his profession could not have been known at the time his body was discovered, the Mexican Crown Prosecution Service of the State of Veracruz (FGE Veracruz in its Spanish acronym) began an investigation of aggravated homicide and a motive of robbery[mfn]Penal Code of the Free and Sovereign State of Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave. Article 130: Any person responsible for aggravated homicide will be sentenced to between 20 and 70 years in prison and a fine of up to a 1,000 days’ salary; if, in addition, when carrying out the homicide, four or more of the aggravating circumstances indicated in article 144 of this Code were enacted, between 30 years and life imprisonment will be imposed. Article 144: Homicide and injuries must have the character of being aggravated with viciousness, cruelty, or depravity when they are committed.[/mfn]. However, as the fact he was a journalist has now been established, and bearing in mind the multiple stab wounds that caused his death, ARTICLE 19 now calls on the FGE Veracruz to investigate the murder under the guidelines established by the Approved Protocol for the Investigation of Crimes Committed Against Freedom of Expression.

Margarito Martínez Esquivel, Baja California

On Monday, 17 January, Margarito Martínez was killed by an unknown assailant with a firearm outside his home in the Camino Verde neighbourhood of Tijuana, Baja California. According to information provided by the Crown Prosecution Service of Baja California (FGEBC), the journalist was killed in his vehicle as he was leaving his home to cover a story about violence in the municipality. The FGEBC reported that the weapon used in the murder of the photojournalist has also been used in at least five other crimes since 2020.

Martínez was a press photographer with more than 15 years’ experience in various media outlets, including La Jornada Baja California, Semanario ZETA, Cadena Noticias and Punto Norte. The journalist primarily covered crime and police news. ARTICLE 19 had documented attacks on him since July 2019, including three Tijuana municipal police officers’ physical attack and theft of his mobile phone, and a private individual’s abusive remarks and stigmatisation of the journalist on social media in December 2021. The Yo Sí Soy Periodista [Yes, I am a Journalist] activist group issued a statement demanding Martínez’s protection following the December insults. 

According to information provided to ARTICLE 19 by Yo Sí Soy Periodista, on 13 December 2021, Margarito Martínez requested support from the State System for the Protection of Journalists. The State System forwarded the request to the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists (SEGOB), and the latter initiated communication with the journalist. However, the journalist had not completed his registration process and therefore he was not registered as a beneficiary of either the state system or the federal mechanism. The journalist, who had previously informed ARTICLE 19 that he had secured emergency protection in the past, was directly supported by Yo Sí Soy Periodista.

ARTICLE 19 is concerned that the registration processes for protection systems, whether state or federal, are excessively bureaucratic, with multiple requirements and documents being demanded from journalists before the implementation of effective protection measures. As far as the operations of the specialised mechanisms for the protection of journalists are concerned, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has reiterated the need to ensure effective coordination between the entities responsible for the implementation of measures of prevention, protection and justice.

ARTICLE 19 is also concerned by the fact that the Secretary of Public Security and Municipal Citizen Protection of Tijuana (SSPCM) said in a statement that the first information released following the murder indicated that it could have been the result of a private clash between neighbours. The Crown Prosecution Service will carry out the corresponding investigation. 

ARTICLE 19 reminds the SSPCM that issuing statements that may stigmatise the journalist or distort investigations is a violation of investigation protocols.

Demands for the authorities

ARTICLE 19 reiterates to both state and federal authorities their obligations to prevent attacks against the press, protect victims and investigate the murders of journalists. In accordance with the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the States are obliged to investigate these murders effectively, determine their causes, and punish those responsible. Failure to comply with this obligation and to address the impunity from which these murders derive is a dereliction of responsibility on behalf of States, both when it comes to crimes committed by State agents and when they have been committed by private individuals.

In view of the above, ARTICLE 19 demands:

 — That the Crown Prosecution Service of the State of Veracruz investigate the homicide of José Luis Gamboa Arenas in accordance with the Approved Protocol for the Investigation of Crimes against Freedom of Expression, clarifying the motive for the crime, and if it is found that the act was due to Gamboa’s activity as a journalist, carry out all the investigative acts necessary to find the abettor(s) and perpetrator(s).

— That the Crown Prosecution Service of the State of Baja California investigate the homicide of Margarito Martínez Esquivel in accordance with the Approved Protocol for the Investigation of Crimes against Freedom of Expression, considering his activity as a journalist as its main line of enquiry, and carry out all the appropriate investigative acts to prosecute the case, identifying the abettor(s) or perpetrator(s).

— That the State System for the Protection of Journalists and the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists analyse their registration processes in the case of Margarito Martínez Esquivel, and that, in accordance with the standards set by the IACHR, establish more expeditious processes to integrate defenders and journalists as beneficiaries.

— That the Secretary of Public Security and Municipal Citizen Protection of Tijuana and all the authorities involved refrain from issuing any communication which could stigmatise Margarito Martínez or distort the lines of investigation.

Similarly, ARTICLE urges the authorities of Veracruz and Baja California to coordinate with the federal authorities to grant security measures for the families of José Luis Gamboa and Margarito Martínez.

ARTICLE 19 is an independent Human Rights organisation which works around the world to promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of expression.

For more information, please contact comunicacion@article19.org or press@article19.org

Read this alert in Spanish