A deadly year for Mexico’s journalists

August 27, 2019 – On Saturday, the body of Nevith Condés Jaramillo, the director of Observatorio del Sur, a local news site in Mexico, was found in the Tejupilco municipality, riddled with stab wounds. It’s not yet clear whether his death was linked to his journalism. If it was, organized crime could be to blame; equally, Condés had a strained relationship with local officials, having reported on corruption within the police department. (In Mexico, public officials have commonly been suspected of involvement in violent attacks against journalists, not that they’re ever held accountable.) Colleagues of Condés told Reporters Without Borders that he received death threats in November, and again in June.

Mexico has long been a dangerous place to be a journalist, but this year’s statistics are particularly worrying. Condés is the fourth reporter to have been killed in the past month. In late July, the body of Rogelio Barragán Pérez, the founder of news website Guerrero Al Instante, was found dead in the trunk of a car, reportedly bearing signs of torture. On August 2, Edgar Alberto Nava López, who also worked as a journalist in Guerrero state, was found dead; the same day Jorge Celestino Ruiz Vázquez, a reporter with El Gráfico, was fatally shot in Veracruz state. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, all three reporters had recently received threats, or otherwise expressed fears for their safety. Late last year, assailants twice attacked Ruiz’s vehicle, and shot at his residence.

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According to a CPJ database, motives in the murders of Barragán and Nava have yet to be established. CPJ did conclude that Ruiz was murdered in direct relation to his work, a verdict it also recorded for Rafael Murúa Manríquez, a community radio director who was killed in January in Baja California Sur; Francisco Romero Díaz, a local reporter killed in May in Quintana Roo; and Norma Sarabia Garduza, a newspaper correspondent killed in June in Tabasco. According to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, the total number of journalist deaths this year could be as high as 12—and it’s only August. It’s possible that 2019 will prove to be the deadliest year on record for Mexico’s journalists.

That’s no small feat. Mexico is already the most dangerous country for journalists in the Western hemisphere; well over 100 journalists have been killed there since 2000. The impunity rate for crimes against free expression is almost 100 percent: a special prosecutor’s office focused on such offenses has procured precious few convictions since it was established in 2010. A federal program offering protection measures to nearly 1,000 threatened reporters—including panic buttons and bodyguards—has been criticized as under-resourced, including in a report issued this week by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico. And its safeguards haven’t always worked. Francisco Romero Díaz was supposedly under protection when he was murdered this year in Quintana Roo; so was Rubén Pat, another journalist in the state, when he was killed last year. According to Le Monde, Condés, who was killed on Saturday, had recently requested protection, but turned down an eventual offer because of the bureaucracy associated with it.

Mexico’s grim climate for the press goes beyond immediate physical violence. Ownership of broadcast media is highly concentrated, and many outlets depend on government advertising, leaving them susceptible to official pressure. The government of Enrique Peña Nieto spied on journalists; Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the leftist who replaced Peña Nieto as president last year, promised to do better by the press, but has frequently attacked reporting he doesn’t like in Trumpian terms. On at least one occasion, his words sparked death threats against staff at the newspaper Reforma. On another, López Obrador said journalists should “behave well” or “you know what will happen to you.”

The chilling echo of those words rings through Mexico’s month of journalist murders. According to CPJ and Al Jazeera, Barragán, Nava, and Ruiz all moderated their journalistic behavior in the wake of recent threats—Barragán and Ruiz stopped putting their names to sensitive articles; Nava even took down stories about criminals—but such steps did not keep them alive. Mexico is a reminder that the murders of journalists aren’t just tragic individual data points, but ripple through the world’s information ecosystems, often suppressing efforts to expose the truth.

Below, more on Mexico, and press threats: