Reporters Without Borders believes that action by the international community is more necessary than ever in the face of the wave of terror that has hit the northern city of Ciudad Juárez since the start of the month, in which journalists have been among the most prominent victims.
As an emergency measure, Reporters Without Borders calls on the US border authorities to make the necessary humanitarian provisions for journalists who are forced to flee into exile. In particular, it requests the immediate release of Mexican journalist Emilio Gutiérrez Soto - held in the Texan border town of El Paso since June after entering the United States in an unauthorised manner - while his asylum request is considered. A Reporters Without Borders representative is to visit him today.
“Basic freedoms, beginning with the freedom to report the news, sound like hollow words in a situation that requires help from the international community with keeping the peace and combating impunity,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“Humanitarian assistance is also needed from other countries, especially the United States and Canada, which can expect to see journalists arriving and asking for their protection,” the organisation continued. “These countries cannot ignore the risks these journalists face in their own countries or, even less, treat them as a threat. This is why we regard Emilio Gutiérrez’s prolonged detention at the request of the US immigration authorities as shocking and incomprehensible.”
A reporter for the El Diario newspaper in Ascensión, in Chihuahua state (of which the capital is Ciudad Juárez), Gutiérrez fled to the border with his 15-year-old son on 15 June because he had been getting death threats believed to have come from members of the Mexican military.
After identifying themselves to a US immigration patrol, they were placed in detention. The son was released and is now in the care of relatives in El Paso. But Gutiérrez has remained in detention despite a recent reminder by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees about the obligation to provide asylum. He could remain there for several more months as a hearing scheduled for today has been postponed until March.
A journalist employed by the same newspaper, Armando Rodríguez Carreón, was gunned down outside his Ciudad Juárez home on 13 November. During his funeral, Jorge Luis Aguirre, the editor of the online newspaper La Polaka, received a call on his mobile in which he was told “you will be next.” As a result, he decided to travel to the United States with his family.
Luís Horacio Najera, a correspondent for the national daily Reforma, has been holed up in Canada for the past month. The managing editor of Reforma, Alejandro Junco de la Vega, publicly announced his decision several months ago to go into exile in the United States for safety reasons.
Claudio Tiznado, a reporter with Géneros, a newspaper based in Hermosillo, in the northwestern state of Sonora, requested asylum in Tucson, Arizona, in May 2007 but was unsuccessful and returned to Mexico a few months later. Misael Habana had a similar experience. Habana used to co-produce a news programme on the privately-owned national TV station Televisa with Amado Ramírez, who was murdered in Acapulco, in the southwestern state of Guerrero, on 6 April 2007. He requested asylum in Canada but gave up after seeing it was going to take a very long time.
At least six journalists working for various news media have been threatened recently in Ciudad Juárez. For obvious security reasons, Reporters Without Borders will not publicly identify these journalists, but it is ready to provide their details to the appropriate international bodies.
The offensive launched by the federal authorities against drug trafficking after President Felipe Calderón took office in 2006 triggered an unprecedented response from the drug cartels while failing to eradicate organised crime’s penetration of both the state and federal governments. More than 4,000 people have been killed since the start of the year in Mexico as a result of this undeclared war.
At total of 44 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2000, half of them gunned down by organised crime. Another eight have gone missing since 2003.
Two other journalists are being held for unclear reasons. One is Jesús Lemus Barajas, the editor of the regional daily El Tiempo in the southwestern state of Michoacán, who had been held since 7 May for alleged drug trafficking - a subject he was investigating at the time of his arrest. The other is Roberto Tepepexteco Hipólito of the daily El Debate de los Calentanos in the state of Guerrero, who was arrested on 6 September after covering a clash between presumed drug traffickers and federal agents.
The western hemisphere’s most dangerous country for the media, more dangerous even than Colombia, Mexico was ranked 140th out 173 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.