The passage of a freedom of information law in 2002 was the latest in a series of developments improving press freedom during the past five years, but serious problems remained. A journalist was murdered in the north, where drug cartels were operating, although it was not known if he was killed because of his work as a journalist. Threats, attacks and intimidation of journalists were commonplace in the provinces where those responsible were often local politicians, officials and police who still found it hard to accept an independent press.
The justice system was sometimes used to intimidate or put pressure on journalists. Several were charged with libel, which always carries a prison term under Mexican law. This is contrary to international human rights law, which defines imprisonment for press offences as a human rights violation and a form of intimidation. Eight journalists were summonsed by judges and questioned about their news sources, thereby jeopardising investigative journalism. The national human rights commission criticized all these summonses and said they were aimed at intimidating journalists.
Respect for press freedom was apparently not a priority for President Fox, who was interviewed by Reporters Without Borders during a visit to Paris. Asked about respect for the confidentiality of sources, Fox said journalists who published information obtained illegally would always be prosecuted. As regards prison terms for press offences, he said journalists were "citizens like any other." In both responses, Fox showed that he failed to recognise that it was society’s right to be informed that was at issue, not the rights of journalists as a professional group. As for combatting impunity, he said there would be no legislative changes or specific measures regarding the investigation of murder cases. Yet Fox apparently understood the role of the press. In October, he personally decreased the time TV and radio stations must set aside for government broadcasts - a move seen as an attempt to win over the major news media.
A journalist killed
One journalist was killed in 2002 but, at the end of the year, it was still not possible to say whether his murder was linked to his work as a journalist.
Félix Alonso Fernández García, editor of the weekly Nueva Opción in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, was shot dead in the town of Miguel Alemán on 18 January. Fernández had recently made a statement to judicial officials alleging that the town’s former mayor, Raúl Rodríguez Barrera, was linked to drug traffickers. In 2001, Fernández had reported these allegations to the police. Several days prior to his death, he had accused the former mayor of wanting to kill him. Before joining Nueva Opción, Fernández worked for a daily paper owned by the former mayor. Manuel González, a former correspondent of the Tamaulipas-based magazine Quehacer Político and friend of Fernández, accused the former mayor of being behind the killing, along with former deputy police chief Zeferino Peña Cuéllar and a brother of Peña. However, according to police, Fernández was found with a small amount of cocaine and other sources said he may himself have been linked to the drug trade. They also pointed out that his reporting did not deal with sensitive issues
New information on a journalist killed before 2002
Juan Chivarras and Miguel Hernández, both members of the Huichol ethnic group, were found guilty of the murder of journalist Philip True and sentenced to13-year jail terms by the Jalisco state high court on 30 May 2002. The two had been acquitted by a lower court on 3 August 2001. They remained free pending an appeal before the federal court. True, a correspondent with the daily San Antonio Express News of San Antonio, Texas, was found dead on 16 December 1998. He had been reporting on the Huichol community in the western state of Jalisco.
Nine journalists arrested
Manuel de la Cruz, a correspondent for the daily Milenio Diario and the Spanish news agency EFE in Tuxtla Gutiérrez in the southern state of Chiapas, was arrested on 23 January 2002 by police from Tapachula while investigating illegal border crossings from Guatemala. De la Cruz apparently surprised the police as they were extorting money from immigrants and residents of the town. He was detained for four hours during which he was threatened and punched by police.
Bernard Drainville, a visiting correspondent from the Canadian state-owned Radio Canada, was arrested along with his cameraman and assistant on 1 February. The three were reporting on a day nursery built illegally in a flood zone in the village of San Mateo Tlaltenango in western Mexico. The three were taken to the police station at the request of the nursery owner, but were freed after local officials intervened.
Jorge Lozano Pérez of the weekly Aguila o Sol was arrested and taken to the Mineral del Monte prison in the northeastern state of Hidalgo on 21 February. Police hit Lozano and took away his personal effects. He was released after paying a fine, ostensibly for failing to respect police authority. During the preceeding months, Lozano had repeatedly criticized abuses by municipal police and irregular practices by local government officials in Mineral del Monte.
María Esther Martínez of the daily La Unión de Morelos in the central state of Morelos was arrested in the town of Xochitepec on 11 March. She was released later the same day. The subject of a libel prosecution, Martínez had criticized the prosecutor’s office and local police in her articles. Three days later, Jesús Castillo of the same paper was threatened over the phone about articles reporting suspected links between police, drug traffickers and gangs of kidnappers. Journalist Fabian Cortés from the same paper was briefly detained and beaten for no apparent reason on 19 September.
Raquel Urbán Hernández of the weekly Reporteros Informando, published in the town of Ecatepec in the central state of Mexico, was arrested on 1 April as a result of a libel complaint by Alejandro Gamiño Palacios, a parliamentarian from the ruling National Action Party (PAN), over a report by Urbán on 26 November 2001 that he was involved in a case of child rape. She was released the same day after paying bail of 22,000 pesos (2,800 euros).
Isabel Arvide was arrested at Chihuahua airport in the northern state of Chihuahua on 16 August on a charge of libel. She was released the following day after paying bail of 100,000 pesos (10,450 euros) but was placed under judicial supervision. The libel charge arose from a report she wrote on suspected links between Chihuahua state officials and drug traffickers that appeared on 2 June in the daily Milenio and was posted on her website.
22 journalists physically attacked
Amado Avendaño Figueroa of the regional daily Foja Coleta was attacked on 23 January 2002 by the father of Enoc Hernández Cruz, mayor of San Cristóbal de Las Casas in the southern state of Chiapas. Figueroa was hit while questioning the mayor about alleged embezzlement by municipal officials.
Seven journalists were attacked by supporters of the state prosecutor in the eastern state of Yucatán on 29 January as they tried to get the interview the prosecutor had promised them. They were Ingrid Salazar of El Mundo al Día, Edgar Pulido, reporter for TV Azteca and correspondent of the daily Milenio Diario, Benjamin Reyes Navarro, a TV Azteca cameraman, Televisa reporter Alejandro Sánchez and his cameraman Roger Ríos, Israël Medina of the radio station Sistema Rasa and Didier Madera Alpuche of the daily Tribuna de Campeche.
Fredy Martín Pérez López, a reporter for the El Universal newspaper and the Italian news agency ANSA, was attacked by police officers in San Cristóbal de las Casas in the southern state of Chiapas as he was taking pictures of a clash between police and local residents on 7 March. Police confiscated his film and damaged his equipment.
Jorge Martínez López and José Jorge Sánchez of the daily Síntesis were punched and hit with sticks by protesters while covering a demonstration in Pachuca, in the northern state of Hidalgo on 20 May. The protesters accused the two reporters of not telling the truth about the arrest of one of their leaders. Martínez said they were covering the demonstration at the request of the organisers.
Humberto Cásarez of the daily Imagen, published in Fresnillo in the central state of Zacatecas, was physically attacked on 31 May by Gustavo Ramos, president of the board of the Autonomous University of Fresnillo (UAF), and by rector Jesús Bonilla Elizondo because of a report on allegedly corrupt practices by university officials.
Juan Lozano Trejo, editor of the regional paper El Huarache, and one of his reporters, Alejo Lechuga, were abducted and held for ten hours on 2 June by supporters of the former mayor of Chilcuautla in the northern state of Hidalgo while investigating illegal land seizures by the former mayor. They were taken to an unrecognised location where they were tied up and threatened, and Lechuga was hit. Their abductors stole 12,000 pesos and their car’s sound system before letting them go.
Inving Leftor Magaña, a cameraman with the local cable TV station Telemundo, was hospitalised after being attacked on 24 June by municipal police officers in Pachuca, capital of the northern state of Hidalgo. The attack took place as Leftor and about 20 other journalists covered the use of violence by police to disperse a demonstration by agricultural workers. Several witnesses said Leftor did nothing to warrant the attack.
Thugs attacked and threatened the wife of Alfredo Jalife of the national daily La Jornada on 30 July. They brandished a firearm and said, "Tell your husband to shut up." Jalife thought the threat was linked to his reporting on politics and finance. Other attempts had been made to intimidate him during the past four years.
Francisco Sánchez Nolasco of Radio Tribuna, Rafael Durán of the magazine Intolerancia, Joel Merino of the daily Reforma, Rubén Díaz Avelino of the daily Milenio Diario, Jesús Medina Rojo of the radio programme "En Confianza" and Paulo Yolat of TV Azteca Oriente were hit by municipal police officers in Puebla on 26 September as the police stormed a government building being occupied by a group of retired members of a municipal workers’ union.
Four journalists threatened
It was reported on 7 January 2002 that Rebeca González López of the daily Tabasco Hoy was threatened by José Raymundo Cano Rodríguez, a municipal employee and associate of the mayor in Cárdenas Tabasco, in the southern state of Tabasco, because of a report about a road accident in which the mayor was involved.
Jesús Blancornelas of the weekly Zeta, based in Tijuana in the northwestern state of Baja California, was told in an anonymous e-mail message on 10 January that a contract killer had been asked to kill him. Known for his investigative reporting on drug trafficking, Blancornelas was the target of an attack in November 1997 in which his bodyguard was killed. He and his family have received military protection since then.
It was reported on 11 March that Jesús Hiram Moreno, correspondent for Tiempo de Oaxaca and the weekly Tiempo del Istmo in Salina Cruz, in the southern state of Oaxaca, feared for his and his family’s safety. He was attacked and threatened on 15December 2001 by the head of the local investigative police, Francisco García Rodríguez, after reporting allegedly irregular practices in García’s department. Hiram filed a complaint and was given protection.
Francisco Castellanos, a contributor to the daily La Voz de Michoacán, received an anonymous threatening call on his mobile phone on 5 November. The caller told him he would "pay dearly" for a report the previous day about US bank accounts held by the former governor of Michoacán state and several other officials, as well as alleged cases of embezzlement.
Pressure and obstruction
Gunmen shot at the premises of the weekly Páginas and threatened newspaper staff on 3 April 2002 in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, in the southern state of Chiapas. The editors, who reported the incident to the police, said it could have been prompted by the newspaper’s criticisms of the authorities.
A libel complaint was brought on 8 May against Alejandro Junco de la Vega, editor of the daily Reforma, by a member of the Mexico state chamber of deputies, Carlos Galán Domínguez, because of a report alleging that Galán received improper payments from the chamber. Junco, along with Enrique J. Gómez and Humberto Padgett, who wrote the report, faced the possibility of three-year jail terms if convicted.
Maribel Gutiérrez of the Acapulco daily El Sur in the southeastern state of Guerrero was questioned on12 June by Acapulco prosecutors investigating the murder of lawyer and human rights activist Digna Ochoa. Gutiérrez, who was summoned for questioning after writing a number of reports about Ochoa’s alleged killers, refused to reveal her sources to the prosecutors.
Police seized all the transmitting equipment of the community radio station Radio Tlahuiltoltepec in Tlahuiltoltepec, in the southern state of Oaxaca, on 7 August. Members of the community organization in charge of the station said the police used unnecessary violence, showed no warrant and gave no explication for their actions.
José Santiago Ealy, editor of the daily La Crónica in Tijuana, in the northern state of Baja California, accused the state authorities of discriminating against the newspaper in an editorial on 3 October. He claimed that the newspaper was not getting its fair share of state advertising and was denied access to information. La Crónica had revealed on 30 August that the salary of state governor Eugenio Elorduy had increased by 65 per cent. It also accused him of nepotism and abuse of power.
A judge in the northern border town of Ciudad Juárez agreed on 17 October to consider a prosecutor’s request for the arrest of Oscar Cantú Murguía, editor of the daily Norte de Ciudad Juárez, and seven of his staff as a result of a libel complaint brought by former mayor Manuel Quevedo Reyes, currently the head of a real estate company. The complaint was prompted by an article raising questions about the sale of a land plot by Quevedo to the local government. Quevedo requested 50 million pesos (5,165,000 euros) in damages and the closure of the newspaper.
Six journalists from the national daily La Jornada were summonsed to appear before a federal court on 18 November in connection with a series of articles in January about a case of corruption within the state-owned oil company, Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex). The journalists had refused to reveal their sources when previously questioned.
Luciano Campos Garza, correspondent for the daily Proceso in Monterrey, in the northern state of Nuevo León, was held against his will at the National Institute for Immigration (INM) for several hours on 19 November. While held, an employee pressured him to hand over documents she believed he possessed about alleged irregularities within the INM.
Francisco Guerrero and Fabiola Escobar of the daily La Jornada de Morelos, in the central state of Morelos, were ordered to appear before a judge on 16 December. Only Guerrero went. The judge questioned him about their sources for a report in August alleging that blood contaminated with the HIV virus was given to the institute for social security. An inquiry was launched by the state prosecutor’s office as a result of the report.