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Mexico5 August 2008

Home of jailed newspaper publisher searched by soldiers

The home of imprisoned newspaper publisher Jesús Lemus was searched last week by soldiers who showed no warrant. The publisher of El Tiempo, a local daily based in La Piedad, in the southwestern state of Michoacán, Lemus has been held in pretrial custody on a drug-trafficking charge since 15 May.

Lemus’ wife, Martha Pérez, told Reporters Without Borders that about 20 soldiers arrived at the house on 31 July and said they had to search it because of an anonymous tip-off. She let them in although they offered no other explanation and had no warrant.

They searched the house thoroughly and took photos, but refused to say what they were looking for. They questioned Pérez about her activities and the activities of other members of the family. She told them about her husband’s detention and the charges brought against him.

El Tiempo editor Magdalena Pérez told Reporters Without Borders that two of the newspaper’s distributors were recently questioned by the army. She said searches were also carried out at the homes of the two men who are arrested with Lemus on 7 May in Cuerámaro, in the neighbouring state of Guanajuato, while he was reporting on drug trafficking.

All three men were mistreated during interrogation following their arrest. Formally placed in pretrial detention on 15 May, they were moved to a high-security federal prison in Puente Grande, in the neighbouring state of Jalisco, on 28 May after being categorised as “dangerous suspects.” Lemus insisted on his innocence in a letter to the news media on 18 May.

The frequent score-settling being the police and drug cartels suggest that Lemus may have been arrested because his investigation into drug trafficking was creating a problem for the local authorities.

The police officers who arrested Lemus and his two sources are due to appear before a criminal court in Puente Grande for the second time on 11 August.

28.05 - Detained newspaper publisher transferred to top-security federal prison

After being held for 19 days on questionable drug-trafficking charges in Puentecilla prison in the central state of Guanajuato, El Tiempo publisher Jesús Lemus Barajas was transferred yesterday to a high-security federal prison in Puente Grande, in the neighbouring state of Jalisco.

The authorities said he had to be moved because he was a “dangerous suspect” but El Tiempo editor Magdalena Pérez Sánchez said the move was “part of an entirely deliberate strategy to obstruct his defence and portray him as a criminal.” El Tiempo is local daily based in La Piedad, in the southern state of Michoacán.

Pérez and a Reporters Without Borders representative were received yesterday by the Chamber of Deputies special commission for monitoring attacks on journalists. The commission has announced its intention to visit the newspaper publisher in prison and to hold a news conference later today to condemn his detention.

20.05 - Call for explanation from justice system after journalist held in custody in drugs case

Reporters Without Borders today voiced serious concern after it was confirmed that Jesús Lemus Barajas, editor of the daily El Tiempo, in La Piedad, Michoacán state in south-west Mexico, is being held in preventive custody in a drugs case.

The worldwide press freedom organisation called on the federal authorities to produce clear and compelling reasons for his detention and expressed anxiety that he had reportedly been ill-treated.

Police arrested Lemus in Cuerámaro, in the neighbouring state of Guanajuato, on 7 May where he was reporting on drug trafficking and now accuse him of involvement in the trade for “The Family”, an offshoot of the powerful Gulf cartel.

He was investigating the “drug trade routes” in Cuerámaro in the south of the country, with two of his sources, when the three men were stopped by police.

His lawyer, Vladimir Camacho, told the worldwide press freedom organisation that his client and his informers were taken separately to a house on the edge of the city where they were kept incommunicado for 48 hours and subjected to brutal interrogation throughout the day of 8 May. They were transferred the following day to Puentecilla prison, where the federal public ministry took over the case. The editor’s preventive custody was confirmed on 15 May.

“Since the start of a new wave of violence linked to drug trafficking and the murders of several senior police officers, the mood is more one of score-settling rather than of pursuing justice,” the organisation said.

“Unfortunately, we have reason to believe that Jesús Lemus Barajas is the victim both of these circumstances and because of his reporting, which was probably an embarrassment to some of the authorities. The case against him appears weak, even more so since not a shred of physical evidence has been produced against him.”

The public ministry in Guanajuato said in a statement that the three defendants were accused of “instigating organised crime”. The state judicial authorities alleged that the journalist and the two other men “had tried to bribe the local authorities so as to carry out drug-dealing”.

The federal justice ministry, quoted by the 17 May edition of the daily Correo de Guanajuato used the same words, adding that Jesús Lemus Barajas “had passed himself off a journalist” with the aim of approaching officials and police and to “ensure impunity for drug-dealing operations” for ‘The Family’, a clan of the Gulf drug cartel.

Lemus sent a letter to the media on 18 May, a copy of which was obtained by Reporters Without Borders, in which he denied the accusations and complained of the conditions in which he was held for the first two days, during which he said he was beaten, tortured and threatened with death.

The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) told Reporters Without Borders that it had opened an investigation into the circumstances of the journalist’s detention after visiting him in Puentecilla jail. The CNDH also said that Lemus had interviewed officials at the public ministry in Guanajuato in pursuit of his reporting on drug-trafficking in southern Mexico.

Reporters Without Borders expressed concern about revelations of ill-treatment the journalist may have suffered in detention, at a time when the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has just condemned the practice of torture by Mexican security forces. “We await the conclusions of the investigation opened by the CNDH in this regard,” it added.

Jesús Lemus Barajas launched El Tiempo in 2006, after working for five years with the daily La Voz de Michoacán and contributing regularly to national daily La Jornada. In March 2008, he exposed harassment of the media by the mayor of La Piedad, which resulted in the detention of two El Tiempo reporters accused of “incitement to rebellion”, while they covered a riot in front of the municipal offices. The journalist had also criticised unfair attribution of official advertising in the municipality and police intimidation of El Tiempo news vendors.

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