MEXICO: Two columnists murdered; one editor missing


RAN 33/11 21 June 2011

The Writers in Prison Committee PEN of International (WiPC) is saddened and outraged by the murder of columnists Miguel Ángel López Velasco and Pablo Ruelas Barraza and the disappearance of editor Marco Antonio López Ortiz, all in the last two weeks. In the most recent incident, López Velasco was shot dead along with his wife and son in their home in Veracruz state on 20 June 2011, while Ruelas was gunned down in Sonora state on 13 June. López Ortiz has not been seen since 7 June, when he was reportedly abducted in Guerrero state. In all, a total of 40 of print journalists and writers have been murdered in Mexico since 2004, while 10 more have gone missing. The WiPC calls on the federal and state authorities to investigate these latest crimes as a matter of the utmost urgency, and to bring the culprits to justice. It also calls on the authorities to implement the journalist protection mechanisms it promised in November 2010 immediately.

Unidentified gunmen broke into the house of Notiver columnist and editor Miguel Ángel López Velasco in Veracruz, Veraruz state, in the early hours of 20 June 2011, killing López Velasco (55), his wife Agustina Solano de López, and their son Misael (21). López Velasco was a well known journalist whose column for the daily, “Va de Nuez”, written under the pseudonym Milo Vela, dealt with politics and security issues; he also wrote about politics and police. Local journalists have suggested that the killings could be in retaliation for a recent column about drug trafficking in the region. The Governor of Veracruz, Javier Duarte, has reportedly denounced the murders and ordered the state attorney general to launch a full investigation. López is the second journalist to be found dead in Veracruz state this month, following the appearance on 1 June of the body of La Verdad de Jáltipan columnist Noel López Olguin, who went missing on 8 March.

Pablo Ruelas Barraza, journalist for the regional daily newsappers Diario del Yaqui in Huatabampo and El Regional de Sonora in Hermosillo, both in Sonora state, was found dead on a street in Huatabampo in the early hours of 13 June. He had apparently been shot by two gunmen who had first attempted to abduct him. Ruelas (38), who covered general matters for the two papers, had received death threats from both politicians from both Sonora and criminal groups, according to local media reports. Some reports suggested that Ruelas had previously served a prison sentence for drug crimes.

News editor for the daily paper Novedades Acapulco, Marco Antonio López Ortiz was reportedly kidnapped in Acapulco, Guerrero state, on 7 June. That night he (42) left work and was later assaulted on the street by unidentified men who took him away. López Ortiz is responsible for overseeing the paper’s coverage of crime, among other responsibilities. According to local journalists, they are constantly threatened by organized crime groups to keep coverage to a minimum. Novedades Acapulco’s reports on crime are accordingly kept brief and do not probe the facts reported, in order to avoid angering and being targeted by the groups. The state attorney general has begun an investigation into López Ortiz’ disappearance and the National Human Rights Commission is reportedly also looking into the matter.

Background:

Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to work as a journalist. Since January 2004, 38 print journalists and two writers have been murdered, while 10 print journalists have gone missing in the same period. Nine of the killings and three of the disappearances occurred in 2010 alone. Few if any of these crimes have been properly investigated or punished. PEN International believes that it is likely that many of these writers 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.

On 3 June 2011, PEN Canada, in collaboration with the International Human Rights Program at the Faculty of Law, University of Toronto, published a timely and provocative report on the situation in Mexico: Corruption, Impunity, Silence: The War on Mexico’s Journalists (also available in Spanish). The same day Canada’s national newspaper The Globe and Mail published an op-ed by John Ralston Saul, President of PEN International, on the report.

Useful links:

•Reports on the murder of Miguel Ángel López Velasco by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) (20 June 2011) and the BBC (21 June 2011)
•Reports on the murder of Pablo Ruelas Barraza by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) (English and Spanish) (14 June 2011)
•Reports on the disappearance of Marco Antonio López Ortiz by CPJ (English and Spanish) (10 June 2011) and RSF (English and Spanish) (3 June 2011)