7 July 2008
The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN (WiPC) protests the two-month detention of Jesús Lemus Barajas, journalist and director of the daily newspaper El Tiempo, based in La Piedad, Michoacán state, on charges of drug trafficking. The WiPC is concerned that he may in fact be held for his legitimate journalistic activities, and that the charges may in fact be a means of ending his newspaper's criticism of the local authorities. It is also alarmed by reports that he has been ill treated. The WiPC calls on the Mexican authorities either to substantiate the charges against Lemus Barajas, or to release him immediately and unconditionally.
Lemus Barajas was reportedly investigating drug trafficking in the region on 7 May 2008 when he was arrested along with two of his sources in Cuerámaro, in the neighbouring state of Guanajuato, and accused of involvement in trade for ‘The Family', an offshoot of the powerful Gulf cartel. He was detained incommunicado for 48 hours by Guanajuato state ministerial police, who reportedly interrogated and beat him and confiscated his personal belongings, including his car and camera, even though he explained he was a journalist on assignment.
On 9 May, Lemus Barajas and the two other men were transferred to Puentecilla prison in Guanajuato, where the federal public ministry took over the case. Lemus Barajas' preventive custody was confirmed on 15 May. On 27 May, he was transferred to a high-security federal prison in Puente Grande, in the neighbouring state of Jalisco. According to the authorities, the move was necessary because Lemus Barajas is considered a ‘dangerous suspect'; however El Tiempo editor Magdalena Pérez Sánchez has reportedly claimed that this was an attempt to obstruct his defence.
Lemus Barajas has variously been accused of ‘instigating organised crime', trying to bribe the local authorities in order to carry out drug dealing, and posing as a journalist in order to approach officials and police and to ‘ensure impunity for drug-dealing operations' for ‘The Family'. The newspaper director has reportedly denied the accusations. It would appear that to date no concrete evidence against him has been produced.
This is not the first time Lemus Barajas and El Tiempo have been subject to harassment by the authorities this year. In March, Lemus Barajas exposed harassment of the media by the mayor of La Piedad, which led to the detention of two El Tiempo reporters, José Antonio Chavolla Barragán and Alicia López Barajas, on charges of ‘incitement to rebellion'. He had also been critical of unfair allocation of official advertising in the municipality and of police intimidation of El Tiempo news vendors.
There has been high level concern about the case within Mexico. On 28 May it was reported that the Chamber of Deputies' special commission for monitoring attacks on journalists had stated it would visit Lemus Barajas in prison and condemn his imprisonment. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) has opened an investigation into the detention. On 25 June it was reported that the Permanent Commission of Congress (Comisión Permanente del Congreso de la Unión), had requested the Attorney General's Office (Procuraduría General de la República - PGR) to provide a written report on Lemus Barajas' case within 30 days.
Please send appeals:
Expressing concern at the two-month imprisonment of El Tiempo director Jesús Lemus Barajas on drugs trafficking charges, and at reports that Lemus Barajas was held incommunicado and ill treated during the first 48 hours of his detention;
Calling on the authorities either to provide evidence to back up the charges against Lemus Barajas, or alternatively to release him immediately and unconditionally
Lic. Felipe De Jesús Calderón Hinojosa
Presidente de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos
Residencia Oficial de los Pinos Casa Miguel Alemán
Col. San Miguel Chapultepec, C.P. 11850, DISTRITO FEDERAL, México
Fax: (+ 52 55) 5093 4901/ 5277 2376
Salutation: Señor Presidente/ Dear Mr President
Lic. Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza
Procurador General de la República
Av. Paseo de Reforma No. 211-213, Piso 16
Col. Cuauhtémoc, Defegacion Cuauhtémoc
México D.F. C.P. 06500
Teléfono + 52 55 5346 0108
Fax: + 52 55 53 46 0908 (if a voice answers, ask "tono de fax, por favor")
Salutation: Señor Procurador General/Dear Attorney General
Special Federal Prosecutor on Crimes against Journalists
Lic. Octavio Alberto Orellana Wiarco
Fiscal Especial para la Atención de Delitos Cometidos contra Periodistas
Procuradoría General de la República
Av. Paseo de la Reforma #211-213
Col. Cuauhtémoc, Del. Cuauhtémoc, C.P. 06500, México D.F., MEXICO
Fax: +52 55 53 46 09 08
Salutation: Dear Sir/Señor Fiscal Especial
If possible, please also send copies of your appeals to the Mexican Embassy in your country. See http://www.sre.gob.mx/acerca/directorio/embajadas/dirembajadas.htm
***Please send appeals immediately. Check with International PEN if sending appeals after 7 August 2008.***
For further details please contact Tamsin Mitchell at the Writers in Prison Committee London Office: International PEN, Brownlow House, 50-51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER Tel: +44 (0) 207 405 0338 Fax +44 (0) 207 405 0339 email: firstname.lastname@example.org