This June, Mexico’s Procudaría General de la República (Federal Prosecutor’s Office–PGR) issued a report that paints a gruesome picture of the country’s freedom of the press situation, releasing worrisome numbers on crimes and homicides committed against reporters and journalists for the past 14 and a half years.
Between January 2000 and June 2014, an average of one journalist has been reported assassinated in Mexico approximately every 52 days. In the 36 months between 2010 to 2012, 35 journalists were killed, and there were 71 homicides against journalists reported between 2006 and 2012, during the administration of former Mexican President Felipe Calderón.
Of the 102 murders cited in the report, which occurred in 20 out of 32 Mexican states, 61 percent of the crimes took place in Chihuahua (16 murders), Veracruz (15 murders), Tamaulipas (13 murders) Guerrero (11 murders) and Sinaloa (7 murders).These five states are no strangers to drug cartels and organized crime.
The report also mentions 27 other types of crimes continuously perpetuated against the press—not just by criminals, but also by the police. These crimes include deaths threats, murder attempts, abuse of power from authorities, illegal detainment, kidnapping, corporal violence, theft, intimidation, illegal wire-tapping, illegal seizure of property, and entering journalists’ homes without search warrants. Additionally, from 2010 through June 2014, 14 journalists have gone missing and today are presumed dead.
And it’s not just traditional news media outlets that are under fire. In 2011, citizens were shocked by a number of cases where citizen journalists and bloggers were tortured and killed, and whose bodies were publicly displayed in cities like Nuevo Laredo—sending a message to truth-seekers and freedom of speech activists nationwide. In 2012, I wrote about the case of the online alias 5anto, a video blogger who shut down his site after receiving numerous death threats.
While each case presents its own particular nuances, it’s undeniable that powerful forces are behind these heinous crimes to control the press. While the crimes themselves and the recent increase in their frequency are reason enough to worry, the message that they send to news media nationwide is even more troublesome.
One needn’t be an expert to understand the level of pressure that journalists face in Mexico today to self-censor out of fear of their lives. I’ve even become more careful with what I say and how I say it, after getting a threatening phone call in 2011 for reporting on the Casino Royale massacre in Monterrey and questioning the venue’s ties to a prominent political family in the city.
Even more famous are cases of prominent personalities like journalist Lydia Cacho, who has survived numerous attempts against her life, as well as physical and psychological abuse during illegal detentions after she published Los Demonios del Éden (The Demons of Eden). The book exposes the alleged involvement of important politicians in a prostitution and child pornography ring.
The Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) senior Americas program coordinator, Carlos Lauría, has referred to Mexico as “one of the most dangerous places for journalists around the world.” The 570 pretrial investigations opened from 2010 to date, resulting from a variety of crimes targeting journalists, are a testament to Lauría’s claim.
Meanwhile, the 102 murders reported between 2000 and today are a lot more than just numbers on a page—there is a brave Mexican behind each one. There are families, wives, husbands and children who mourn the loss of a dedicated journalist who sought to report on the wrongs of this country because he or she believed it was the best way they could remedy them. Behind each of the numbers on the report are thousands of news stories that will never be written, and truths that Mexicans will never hear about, silenced by bullets. This piece honors their bravery.
As long as security conditions in Mexico don’t allow for journalists to freely publish their investigations and editorial pieces—for those bold enough to directly report on dangerous subjects and expose public figures as criminals—hiding behind anonymity might be the best course of action. Permanent silence must not and cannot be the road to take. There’s too much at stake.