PEN Launches Mexico Campaign
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
As agreed at the 71st International PEN Congress held in Bled in June 2005, the PEN Writers in Prison Committee is staging a campaign in October focusing on freedom of expression issues in Mexico. The campaign will run from Tuesday October 11 to Tuesday October 18, 2005 and will focus on two distinct issues: the recent murders of journalists and the impunity enjoyed by their killers; and the prosecution in the Supreme Court of poet and professor Sergio Witz.
Background on the State of the Media in Mexico
(This summary is taken from the BBC website’s Mexico profile)
Mexico’s media was traditionally dominated by the Televisa group, which had firm links with the ruling PRI. But the loosening of the PRI’s hold led to greater editorial independence and the emergence of competitors.
Televisa once had a virtual monopoly in Mexican TV, and remains a major global supplier of programmes in Spanish. New players – such as the Azteca group and foreign satellite and cable operators – have mounted an assault on Televisa’s dominance.
The radio market is very large, with around 1,400 local and regional stations and several major station-owning groups. Some high-powered stations on Mexico’s northern border beam their signals into lucrative US markets.
Mexican newspapers reflect different political views; sensationalism characterises the biggest-selling dailies.
The media watchdog Reporters Without Borders noted in 2005 that Mexico’s local and regional media were vulnerable to pressure and attacks from criminals, politicians and police.
The problem of impunity is, sadly, one Mexico shares with the majority of nations in the Americas. It particularly impinges on freedom of expression in the numerous cases of journalists – particularly investigative journalists – who have been murdered in order to silence their voices. The death toll this century has been such that Mexico is now one of the most dangerous places in the world to practice journalism. The focus of WiPC’s Mexico Campaign is on those journalists who have been murdered since January 1, 2000. Although some arrests have been made in connection with these murders, none could be said to have come to a satisfactory conclusion. Please click here for detailed cases.
Sergio Witz López
Sergio Witz López, a university professor and poet, is on trial for “insulting national symbols” after his poem “Invitación (La Patria Entre Mierda)” [“Invitation (The Country in Shit)”] was published in the Campeche-based magazine Criterios in 2001. Among other images, the poet imagines himself using the Mexican flag as toilet paper. A retired army officer, Abel Santa Cruz Menchaca, brought the poem to the attention of the then Campeche state Interior Minister, Carlos Justo Sierra, who brought charges against Witz under Chapter 5 of Article 191 of the federal penal code. The law, which dates from the 1930s and is viewed by some legal experts as unconstitutional, allows for up to four years in prison for anyone found guilty of “insulting national symbols.” The case, which is being viewed as a crucial test of freedom of expression in Mexico, has risen through the Mexican court system and, in 2004, reached the Supreme Court. Pre-trial hearings took place in January 2005. *UPDATE* On October 6, La Jornada reported that the Mexican Supreme Court has ruled 3-2 against Sergio Witz. Sentence has yet to be passed – it could be either a prison sentence or a fine. The ramifications of this decision for freedom of expression in Mexico as a whole are very serious and PEN members and campaign supporters should check back for recommendations on further action.
Click here for La Jornada‘s article
International PEN Resolution on Mexico
Click here to read the 2005 Resolution on Mexico passed at the International PEN Congress in Bled, Slovenia.
Sample Appeal Letter
To participate in this campaign, please write a letter of appeal to President Vicente Fox Quesada and to Ambassador Carlos de Icaza. Please click here for a sample appeal letter.
There follows details of all print journalists murdered in Mexico since January 1, 2000 (most recent first).
Raúl GIBB GUERRERO:
Owner and director of the newspaper La Opinión, was killed on April 8, 2005 following the launch of a new edition of his newspaper, La Opinión, in the town of Martínez de la Torre (about 200 miles north-east of Mexico City). Gibb Guerrero died in a hail of bullets whilst driving home to Papantla, also in the state of Veracruz. His assailants were reportedly four unidentified individuals who fled the scene of the attack in two cars. In the days leading up to the launch, Gibb reported having received several anonymous death threats. The police are working on the theory that his killing stems from articles he wrote about the Gulf Cartel, a powerful drugs gang based on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Public prosecutors have announced that a full investigation has started into the murder.
Alfredo JIMÉNEZ MOTA (disappeared, believed killed):
Crime reporter for the Hermosillo daily El Imparcial in the north-western state of Sonora, has not been seen since April 2, 2005. That evening he was due to meet a contact whom he had earlier described to a colleague as “very nervous”. Jiménez (26) had recently published articles in El Imparcial regarding local drug traffickers. The police are working on the premise that his disappearance is linked with his work as an investigative journalist.
Francisco ARRATIA SALDIERNA:
Newspaper columnist, was murdered on August 31, 2004 in the city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, on the border with the United States. Arratia (55), who wrote for a number of newspapers in the state of Tamaulipas, was reportedly found wrapped in a sheet outside the offices of the Red Cross. He had been severely beaten and his body showed signs of torture including burns on his skin and injuries to his hands. He had apparently been kidnapped earlier by unidentified individuals. Arratia was taken to hospital but died of his injuries. Portavoz – the column Arratia Saldierna wrote for four different newspapers in Tamaulipas – was known for its outspokenness. Police are investigating whether the murder is connected to the journalist’s writing on corruption, organized crime and drug trafficking in Matamoros. In September 2004, Raúl Castelán Cruz was arrested in connection with the crime after he was discovered using the mobile phone stolen from Arratia when he was killed. Police claim that Castelán admitted to murdering Arratia because he took exception to what the journalist wrote in his columns.
Roberto Javier MORA GARCÍA:
The editorial director of the newspaper El Mañana and the editor of the weekly North Mexico Business, was reportedly stabbed 26 times near his home in the Mexico/US border town of Nuevo Laredo in the early hours of March 19, 2004. The motives for Mora García’s killing are as yet unclear. However, since neither his car nor his wallet were stolen by his assailant/s, mere robbery has been discounted. Mora has published articles about the drug-trafficking Gulf Cartel, claiming that the police and public officials were involved with the group. He has also uncovered the work of “zeta” groups – former policemen who extort money from businessmen on behalf of drug traffickers. On 22 March, Mexican President Vicente Fox Quesada informed Ninfa Deánder Martínez, the Director General of El Mañana, that he had given instructions to the federal authorities to work with local bodies to carry out an investigation into the murder of Mora García (44) and to bring those responsible to justice. According to a report on the El Mañana website (www.elmañana.com.mx), the State Ministerial Police Commander, Alberto del Ángel Hernández, stated that police were looking at three possible motives for the killing. The first was Mora’s journalistic work; the second that he had happened to witness a robbery and was killed to stop him testifying; and the third – a hypothesis that was still in its formative stages – that he had been the victim of mistaken identity. According to the police commander, two separate groups are collaborating in the investigation of the crime: one is led by José Guadalupe Castillo Celestino, the State Director of the State Ministerial Police, whilst the other is headed up by Salvador Arredondo Arredondo, the state’s Regional Justice Procurator. Mario Medina, a US citizen, was arrested along with his (as yet unnamed) male partner towards the end of March in connection with the crime. Medina claimed he had been tortured by police to confess to the killing. Medina was then himself stabbed to death by his cell mate Roberto Herrera González at the Cereso II prison in Nuevo Laredo on 13 May 2004. It has since been discovered that the weapon supposedly found by police at Medina’s house was not the one used to kill Mora García. [The Mexican PEN Centre is one of six organisations that have formed a commission to monitor the investigation into this crime.]
Francisco ORTÍZ FRANCO:
Deputy editor of the weekly newspaper Zeta, was gunned down in front of his children in the city of Tijuana on June 22, 2004. He had just left a clinic when he was shot three times by unidentified assailants firing from a pick-up truck. Zeta has a reputation for its outspoken reporting on drug trafficking gangs in Tijuana. Ortiz Franco himself was the author of a column on legal affairs. It appears highly likely that he was murdered because of his work for the newspaper. Zeta’s co-founder, Héctor Félix Miranda, was shot dead in April 1988. In 1997, the newspaper’s publisher, Jesús Blancornelas, survived an attempt on his life in which both his bodyguard and driver were killed. One of the two men convicted for the murder of Félix Miranda was a bodyguard employed by businessman Jorge Hank Rhon who is currently a candidate in the mayoral elections in Tijuana and who comes from one of Mexico’s most powerful political families. In the weeks up to his death, Ortiz Franco had also been working to bring to justice those believed responsible for ordering the killing of Félix Miranda. On June 24, 2004, police arrested seven suspects in connection with the murder. The Mexican authorities have also begun investigating drug cartels in Tijuana.
José MIRANDA VIRGEN:
Journalist and vice-president of the daily El Sur de Veracruz, was seriously injured in an explosion at his apartment on October 11, 2002 and died of his wounds five days later. The Mexican authorities have stated that the blast was caused by a gas leak. However, an investigation by the local press revealed that the main damage was caused not in the kitchen but the living room. An independent enquiry has been requested. Prior to the explosion Miranda Vírgen had written a series of newspaper articles in which he claimed that certain police officers were involved in drugs trafficking.
Félix Alonso FERNÁNDEZ GARCÍA:
Editor of the magazine Nueva Opción, was shot dead by unidentified individuals on January 18, 2002 as he left a restaurant in the town of Miguel Alemán in the state of Tamaulipas. Having previously received death threats, Fernández had employed two bodyguards but neither were able to save him. The motive for the killing has yet to be clarified but it may be connected with the publication by Nueva Opción of articles that link the town’s former mayor with a drugs cartel. Fernández García had also written a piece accusing a political candidate in the 2001 campaign of involvement in criminal activity.
Julio Samuel MORALES FERRÓN (Severo Mirón):
Columnist with the daily El Sol de Medio Día and president of the Asociación Mexicana de Radio y Televisión (Mexican Radio and Television Association – AMRT), was killed on February 1, 2002 in the offices of the AMRT in Mexico City. Morales (79), who wrote mainly on arts and politics under the nom de plume Severo Mirón, had had his throat slit. The prosecutor in charge of the case, Bernardo Bátiz, has dismissed the possibility that the crime was ostensibly a robbery or that it was politically motivated. The editor of El Sol de Medio Día, Humberto Hernández, stated that Morales was not carrying out an investigation at the time of his killing and that he had not written anything particularly controversial in recent columns.
Saúl Antonio MARTÍNEZ GUTIERREZ:
Deputy editor of the Matamoros-based newspaper El Imparcial, was shot dead on the night of 23/24 March 2001. He was found in the back seat of his car with four bullet wounds to his head, indicating an execution-style killing. Signs of probable torture were also discovered on his body. Early indications point to the killing having been carried out by local drug traffickers who had been the focus of articles written by Martínez and published in El Imparcial. He had apparently received threats from such people but had not taken them seriously. According to the local authorities, another hypothesis is also being followed. The police are investigating the possibility that Martínez was killed because of El Imparcial’s stance on corruption in official circles and the smuggling of immigrants.
José Luis ORTEGA MATA:
Publication director with the weekly Semanario de Ojinaga, was shot and killed on February 19, 2001. Police are following two possible motives for the murder. It may be linked with the publication in the February 15 issue of Semanario de Ojinaga of an article regarding drug smuggling in the northern state of Chihuahua, where the newspaper is based. However, the possibility that the shooting was a crime of passion has not yet been ruled out. Ortega Mata had been a journalist for fifteen years.
Hugo SANCHEZ EUSTAQUIO:
Publisher of the newspaper La Verda de Atizapdn, was found dead near his car in the city of Zaragoz on July 19, 2000. He had been shot in the back of the neck. Sánchez had apparently been kidnapped three months beforehand. There has, to date, been no resolution of the case.
Journalist, reporter and photographer for La Opinion Newspaper in the border city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, was found dead on the US side of the border on April 9, 2000. He had been killed by a single shot in the back of his head and it is believed that the murder was motivated by Pineda’s reporting on criminal activities in the area which had made him unpopular both with criminals and police. He was reported to have survived a previous attack in December 1999 and had been severely beaten up in 1997.