RAN 31/10 13 April 2010
The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN (WiPC) is saddened and angered by the murder of journalist Enrique Villicaña Palomares and the disappearance of correspondent Ramón Ángeles Zalpa in Michoacán state in early April 2010. Villicaña was abducted on 5 April and found dead five days later, while Ángeles has not been seen since 6 April. The WiPC is particularly disturbed by accounts that Villicaña had reported receiving threats to Michoacán state justice department in late March but that the authorities had failed to take any action to protect him. The WiPC calls on the federal and state authorities to investigate Villicaña’s death and Ángeles’ disappearance as a matter of the utmost urgency, and to bring the culprits to justice.
Enrique Villicaña Palomares, columnist for the daily newspaper La Voz de Michoacán, as well as a teacher, was kidnapped on 5 April 2010 and found dead in Morelia, Michoacán state, five days later, on 10 April. His throat had been slit. The motive for the killing is not yet known. Villicaña’s employers are reportedly not sure if the murder was linked to his work as a journalist; however, they said that Villicaña (55) had received threats which he had reported to the Michoacán state justice department in late March but that the authorities had failed to take any action.
Villicaña is the fifth print journalist to be murdered in Mexico this year. His death occurred the same week as the disappearance of another Michoacán journalist, Ramón Ángeles Zalpa, correspondent for the newspaper Cambio de Michoacán based in Paracho. Ángeles was last seen leaving his home in Paracho to drive to the National University of Pedagogy, where he works as a teacher; no one has heard from him since. His family has reported him missing to the Michoacán state prosecutor’s office. The Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Journalists and the local office of the General Attorney’s office in Michoacán have begun an investigation.
Ángeles reported on various topics for Cambio de Michoacán, including organized crime, government policy, public safety and agricultural and environmental issues. The newspaper management does not know if he had received any threats. However, it reportedly believes Ángeles’ disappearance may be connected to an article he wrote on an armed attack on a local indigenous family in late March which he asked to be printed without a byline due to problems within the Purépecha indigenous community, of which Ángeles is a member.
His family said that they had received several anonymous phone calls on 2 April, the last of which was answered by Ángeles; they did not know whether or not he had received any message. Local journalists reportedly believe that a local criminal gang is responsible for his disappearance. Ángeles is the second Cambio de Michoacán journalist to go missing in less than six months, following the disappearance of María Esther Aguilar Cansimbe in November 2009 (see RAN 58/09 of 27 November 2009).
Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to work as a journalist. Since January 2004, a total of 32 writers – 31 print journalists and one author – have been murdered, while eight other print journalists have disappeared. Few if any of these crimes have been properly investigated or punished. International PEN believes that it is likely that these journalists were targeted in retaliation for their critical reporting, particularly on drug trafficking. While organised crime groups are responsible for many attacks, state agents, especially government officials and the police, are reportedly the main perpetrators of violence against journalists, and complicit in its continuance.
Michoacán is one of the states worst affected by violence against journalists. Two rival drug cartels have been fighting to control the area for more than a year and threatening local journalists to force them to provide favourable coverage of their activities.
Report on Villicaña’s murder:
•Reporters Without Borders (11 April 2010): http://www.rsf.org/Newspaper-journalist-missing-after.html (English), http://www.rsf.org/Un-periodista-desaparecido-despues.html (Spanish)
Reports on Ángeles’ disappearance:
•Committee to Protect Journalists (9 April 2010): http://cpj.org/2010/04/journalist-missing-in-western-mexico.php (English); http://cpj.org/es/2010/04/periodista-desaparecido-en-oeste-de-mexico.php (Spanish)
•Article 19 (8 April 2010): http://www.article19.org/pdfs/press/mexico-a-fourth-journalist-goes-missing-in-michoacan-state.pdf (English)