Thursday, May 26

Mexico: the failures of the “protection” of journalists

The assassination of two journalists in Tijuana in less than a week raises the question of the protection of media professionals in Mexico, the most dangerous country in peace in the world for reporters with a hundred homicides in 20 years.

Several hundred people gathered Tuesday evening in Mexico City in front of the headquarters of the Ministry of the Interior, under the slogan “We demand justice”. Photos of murdered journalists were projected onto the walls of the building.

Gatherings of this type had been convened in forty cities across the country, including Tijuana, under the slogan: “Neither silence, nor forgetting”.

The shock wave of the Tijuana double murder has crossed the nearby border with San Diego in California. The United States reiterated its support for Mexico’s efforts “in the fight against impunity”, in a message from its ambassador.

The European Union also expressed its “concern at the lack of results in the investigations opened to shed light on previous cases of murders of journalists”.

Brussels again called on Mexico to make “all possible efforts to effectively protect journalists”. “We call on the Mexican authorities to strengthen the protection of journalists”, also reacted the secretary general of the United Nations Antonio Guterres through his spokesman.

Television journalist Lourdes Maldonado, shot dead on Sunday, and photoreporter Margarito Martinez, shot six days earlier, had requested a “Protection Mechanism” that has existed since 2012.

This “Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists” currently concerns “496 journalists, 137 women and 359 men”, reads on the federal government’s website.

The Mechanism provides, among other things, for close police protection and home surveillance cameras, recalls the director of the weekly Proceso, Jorge Carrasco.

The investigative journalist benefited from it in 2013 after being threatened with death for the investigation into the assassination of one of his colleagues and taking refuge in Paris for a few weeks.

“In my case it worked,” he told AFP. But, since then, “the Mechanism has been exceeded. There have been so many cases”.

Mr. Carrasco also notes a “lack of commitment” from other institutions (Parliament, judiciary). “We did not involve the governments of the (32) states,” he said. Mexico is a federal state.

“It is clear that this mechanism does not work,” confirms Sonia de Anda, a reporter in Tijuana, to AFP. The photographer killed in Tijuana had sought protection in December because he felt threatened. He never got a response, she said.

Killed in her car, journalist Lourdes Maldonado had a police escort when she was walking. “There were obviously no police on Sunday evening,” laments Sonia De Anda.

– Bureaucracy –

The representative of the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in Mexico, Balbina Flores, regrets that the request for protection of the photographer from Tijuana got lost in the paperwork. “The mechanism must provide immediate protection and leave the procedures for later”.

Lack of personnel, insufficient resources, errors in the application of preventive measures: RSF lists the flaws in a mechanism which, moreover, does not guarantee absolute security. “At least four journalists with guards have been murdered in three years.”

Reached by AFP, the Mechanism did not respond.

In post in Tijuana since the 90s, the journalist Lourdes Maldonado had directly asked in 2019 for the protection of the President of the Republic, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, claiming to be “afraid for her life”.

Ms. Maldonado was in conflict with her ex-employer Primer Sistema de Noticias (PSN), a television channel that belongs to the former governor of the state of Baja California Jaime Bonilla (2019-2021), the strongman of the presidential party Morena in the region. She had finally won her case a few days before her assassination.

In 2021, AFP counted at least seven murders of journalists, trying to see in each case if they were killed for their journalistic work.

The question arose for a man found stabbed in the state of Veracruz in mid-January, José Luis Gamboa, who presented himself on social networks as the director of three online publications.

“Gamboa had strongly denounced and criticized the local authorities for their relations with organized crime”, according to RSF. He did not work for any other media, we learned from a local source.

A hundred journalists have been killed since 2000, according to figures from the Commission on Human Rights.

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