Reporters Without Borders has welcomed the setting up of a special prosecutor’s office by the federal justice ministry, on 15 February 2006, dedicated to tackling murders and offences against journalists.
The press freedom organisation has sent an open letter to David Vega Vera, special prosecutor named on 22 February to head up this body, which is unique in the world, to wish him luck in his work, while at the same time regretting certain shortcomings in his remit.
Reporters Without Borders, an organisation which defends press freedom, hails your appointment, on 22 February, to head a special prosecutor’s office dedicated to the fight against murders and offences against journalists. That body, set up at the initiative of President Vicente Fox and the state prosecutor, Daniel Cabeza de Vaca, is in itself a world first. We hope that this precedent will act as an inspiration for other countries where freedom of the press is under real threat.
In setting up this special prosecutor’s office, the federal authorities seem to have finally got the measure of the climate of fear and impunity from which Mexican journalists suffer, especially on a local basis.
Over the past six years, 16 of them have been killed while doing their job or are missing, including six in the state of Tamaulipas. During 2004 and 2005, Mexico became the deadliest country on the American continent with eight journalists murdered. No-one has ever been arrested or tried for instigating these killings.
Most of these journalists paid with their lives for wanting to inform the public about drug-trafficking and the criminal activities that trouble particularly the border states in the north of the country.
Among those murdered were, Francisco Javier Ortiz Franco, co-founder of the weekly Zeta, on 22 June 2004 in Tijuana, of Raúl Gibb Guerrero, editor of the daily La Opinión, on 8 April 2005 in Veracruz state and Alfredo Jiménez Mota, of the daily El Imparcial, who disappeared on 2 April 2005 in Hermosillo.
These tragedies led many media into self-censorship to protect themselves. This conduct did not, unfortunately, prevent a machine gun attack on 6 February 2006, against the daily El Mañana in Nuevo Laredo, which almost killed journalist Jaime Orozco Tey.
That is why, Reporters Without Borders is surprised, that cases linked to drug-trafficking do not come under the competence of the special prosecutor’s office that you are about to take charge of. How can one understand this, when drug-traffickers and more widely criminality in general are the chief causes of violence towards the Mexican media? The special prosecutor’s office will not be able to cut corners on this issue.
It will also not be able to ignore the dangerous complicity that sometimes exists between ‘predators’ that attack the media and the local authorities. Wrongly arrested in December 2005 for having revealed the existence of a paedophile ring in Puebla State, Lydia Cacho Ribeiro has been the target of a conspiracy, judging from the conversations, recently made public, between her often highly-placed detractors.
Mr Prosecutor, we do not underestimate the scale, or the difficulty of the task before you. But the future of press freedom in Mexico and the credibility of the special prosecutor’s office will depend on it having all the necessary means at its disposal. In the run-up to presidential and legislative elections on 2 July, its continuity will depend on its capacity to rapidly show proof of its efficiency.