Mexico: Leading the G20 in Killing Journalists and Writers, by Cathal Sheerin of the Writers in Prison Committee


Mexico: Leading the G20 in Killing Journalists and Writers, by Cathal Sheerin of the Writers in Prison Committee

(This article first appeared in the Huffington Post)

The first six months of 2012 saw 8 journalists and writers murdered in Mexico; that shameful statistic puts this summer’s G20 host country ahead of conflict-ravaged Somalia (6 killings) and just behind blood-soaked Syria (11 killings).

Although there are other countries in the G20 – Russia and China for example – that are hardly beacons of free expression, none of them sees more journalists and writers murdered than Mexico. More journalists have been killed in Mexico this year than in all the other G20 nations combined.

The war against Mexico’s journalists and writers should be more widely recognised.

The first victim of 2012 was La Ultima Palabra’s Raúl Régalo Garza Quirino: he was shot in an organized hit in January. In March, the poet and translator Guillermo Fernández García was battered to death at his home. In April, journalists Héctor Javier Salinas Aguirre and Javier Moya Muñoz were shot to death in a massacre at a bar. That same month, Regina Martínez, a reporter for Proceso, was strangled. May saw two further killings. These were ex-journalist René Orta Salgado, whose body was discovered in the trunk of his car, and Marco Antonio Ávila García, a Sonora-based reporter who was strangled and dumped in the road. And last week, Víctor Manuel Báez Chino, a crime reporter for Milenio Xalapa, was kidnapped and murdered.

These victims join the list of more than 80 journalists, writers and bloggers who have been killed in Mexico since 2000. Many of these men and women wrote about or denounced organized crime and corruption. Few of their deaths have been investigated properly; there have been only a handful of convictions.

Despite the introduction of two mechanisms aimed at protecting journalists under threat, and the creation, in 2006, of the office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression, the rate at which journalists are being killed in Mexico has actually accelerated.

The almost 100% impunity enjoyed by those who kill or threaten journalists in Mexico owes much of its existence to the corruption and inertia that are so prevalent throughout the Mexican states. Police and employees of local administrations are often implicated in attacks on journalists, and, as the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression publicly recognised in March 2012, threats to journalists’ right to free expression often come directly from the state authorities themselves.

The coastal state of Veracruz illustrates this problem. In December 2011, the police service of Veracruz-Boca del Rio was considered so corrupt that it had to be disbanded altogether; law enforcement was handed over to the navy. But this did not make Veracruz any safer. Recently, a ‘death list’ containing the names of a number of journalists to be killed has been circulating in Veracruz: it is alleged that members of the army and navy are planning to carry out these executions.

Last week, PEN International, the global writers’ and free expression organisation, published an open letter addressed to all journalists who will be covering the G20 summit on 18-19 June. We asked them, in the course of their reporting, to raise the issue of the violence suffered by journalists and the impunity enjoyed by those who commit these crimes.

PEN International has long campaigned for changes to Mexican law in order to better protect journalists and writers. Earlier this month, a long-awaited law that would make all attacks on journalists federal crimes was finally approved.

However, Mexico’s commitment to freedom of expression will not be measured by legislation, but by a reduction in the number of attacks on journalists and writers, by the prosecution and conviction of those responsible for these crimes, and by tackling corruption.