Mexico: Ensure Adequate Resources for Protecting Journalists
Last month, a delegation from PEN Centers around the world, including PEN American Center, visited Mexico City to put the global spotlight on the growing threat to journalists in the country, which Reporters Without Borders called “the most dangerous country for media.” Below, we’ve re-printed an excerpt from reflections on the trip by Robert Wallace, treasurer of PEN Center USA in California.
At the end of February, as a board member of PEN Center USA, I was fortunate to take part in a PEN International delegation to Mexico City. The purpose of the trip, the third to Mexico in three years, was to focus public attention on the serious threats that our colleagues face there and to put pressure on the Mexican government to take real and meaningful steps to protect these people.
To say that freedom of expression is “under attack” does not begin to describe how terrible the situation is in Mexico. According to the country’s federal Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression, 103 journalists have been murdered and 25 have disappeared since 2000. Impunity for those crimes stands at approximately 90 percent, which clearly shows that what laws do currently exist are not being enforced. There seems to be no end to the growing corruption and violence in Mexico, as evidenced by the recent mass kidnapping and murder of 43 student teachers from Ayotzinapa who were on their way to a public demonstration in Mexico City.
Over forty delegates from PEN Centers around the world, including Germany, Wales, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Brazil, and Argentina, spent four days meeting with local human rights groups and government officials, including the Foreign Minister, the head of the Human Rights Commission, the Minister of the Interior, and the mayor of Mexico City. There was also an inspiring and well-attended press conference at which each PEN Center delegate stood and read a personal statement demanding that the government of Mexico take action to support freedom of expression.
The result of the delegation’s daily working sessions was an official statement that made the following recommendations to the Mexican government:
• Make the protective measures for journalists and human rights defenders actually work: ensure adequate funding for enforcement, make the assessment of individual cases swift and transparent, and keep those at risk fully informed and engaged in the process at all times.
• Whenever a crime is committed against any person known to be a writer or journalist, local police should report the case directly to the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression, instead of determining themselves whether or not such crimes are freedom of expression cases.
• Expand the jurisdiction of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression to include cases where the suspected perpetrator may be involved in organized crime, including narco-trafficking. Ensure that the office has energetic, sustained political support and sufficient resources, including funding and personnel, to fulfill its mandate.
• Actively encourage the remaining twelve Mexican states to decriminalize defamation.
• Ensure the prompt and thorough investigation of all crimes committed against journalists and provide full and frequent updates on those investigations to the public. In particular, immediately make public the details of progress made in the investigations into the murders of anthropologist Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila, social-media activist Maria del Rosario Fuentes Rubio, and journalist Moisés Sánchez.