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United States / Mexico30 January 2009

After freeing Mexican journalist, US authorities urged to grant his asylum request

Reporters Without Borders welcomes Mexican journalist Emilio Gutiérrez Soto’s release yesterday in the Texan border city of El Paso and urges the US authorities to grant him political asylum, as he would be in great danger if he had to return to Mexico. Gutiérrez had been held by the US immigration department ever since he crossed the border seeking asylum on 15 June 2008.

“Gutiérrez was held for seven months although he posed no threat to the security of the United States and his work as a journalist had exposed him to a real threat in one of Mexico’s most dangerous regions,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We have constantly reminded the Mexican and US authorities of the horrific situation that journalists - primarily Mexican journalists but also US journalists - are enduring in the border region.”

The press freedom organisation added: “We fervently hope the US immigration authorities will approve Gutiérrez’s asylum request. Sending him back to Mexico would be a death sentence. It would also be appropriate for them to explain why he was held. The way Gutiérrez was treated sets a bad precedent for the governments of supposedly safer countries, which should be protecting and offering haven to foreign journalists in such a situation. Reporters Without Borders has helped more than 200 refugee journalists in the past two years.”

The US authorities have so far refused to make any comment about Gutiérrez’s release yesterday afternoon from the El Paso detention centre where he spent the past seven months.

Aged 46 and the correspondent of the El Diario newspaper in Ascensión, in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, Gutiérrez crossed the border into Texas with his teenage son Oscar on 15 June 2008 after receiving death threats believed to have come from military personnel. A month before, around 50 soldiers had carried out a heavy-handed night-time search of his home that was completely illegal.

After crossing the border, Gutiérrez and his son voluntarily approached US immigration officials, who arrested them and put them in a detention centre. His son was subsequently released and allowed to stay with cousins who live in El Paso. A US immigration hearing on Gutiérrez’s case was originally scheduled for 20 November but was postponed to March. Although now free, Gutiérrez still does not know when the authorities will examine his asylum request.

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