The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) expresses its profound concern about the dangerous uptick in violence and armed attacks against journalists and human rights defenders in Mexico. The scale of these attacks reveals an alarming deterioration in the security conditions needed for journalists and defenders to be able to carry out their important work, as well as a serious worsening of the violence committed against them. In 2017 alone, at least the following incidents have been documented:
- January 15: Murder of the human rights defender Isidro Baldenegro López in the state of Chihuahua. Baldenegro López was a leader of Mexico’s Rarámuri indigenous community and an environmental activist. He won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2005.
- February 1: Murder of the human rights defender Juan Ontiveros Ramos in the state of Chihuahua. Ontiveros Ramos was an environmental and indigenous rights defender and a leader of the Rarámuri indigenous community.
- February 11: A report by the technology and human rights research center Citizen Lab revealed that government-level spyware was used against high profile public health advocates in favor of Mexico’s soda tax. Due to a lack of response from the Mexican government, on May 23, a group of ten NGOs working with authorities on the Open Government Partnership, an initiative to increase transparency and combat corruption, announced their decision to end their participation in the initiative.
- February 20: Murder of the sports journalist Carlos Alberto García Martínez in the state of Colima. García Martínez worked with the radio station K Buena.
- March 2: Murder of the journalist Cecilio Pineda Birto in the state of Guerrero. Pineda Birto was the director of the newspaper La Voz de la Tierra Caliente and also worked with the news outlet El Universal.
- March 5: Attack against Santiago Ambrosio Hernández, President of the Victims’ Committee for Justice and Truth for June 19 in Nochixtlán (Comité de Víctimas por la Justicia y la Verdad 19 de junio de Nochixtlán). Our partners also informed us of an armed attack that took place on March 21 against another human rights defender involved in the Nochixtlán case.
- March 19: Murder of the journalist Ricardo Monlui Cabrera in the state of Veracruz. Monlui was director of the news source El Politico, president of the Association of Journalists and Graphic Reporters of Córdoba and the Region (Asociación de Periodistas y Reporteros Gráficos de Córdoba), and a columnist.
- March 22: Armed attack against the human rights defender Alma Barraza in the state of Sinaloa which resulted in the death of her bodyguard. Barraza is a beneficiary of Mexico’s national Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists (Mecanismo de Protección de Personas Defensoras de Derechos Humanos), coordinated by the Interior Ministry (Secretaría de Gobernación, SEGOB).
- March 23: Murder of the journalist Miroslava Breach Velducea in the state of Chihuahua. Breach was a correspondent for the news outlet La Jornada and also worked with the newspaper Norte de Ciudad Juárez. (On April 2, Norte de Ciudad Juárez announced it was shutting down due to security concerns, among other issues.)
- March 28: Attack against journalist Julio Omar Gómez in the state of Baja California Sur, which resulted in the death of his bodyguard. Gómez published crime-related news on 911 Noticias, a news Facebook page. Gómez is a beneficiary of Mexico’s national Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists.
- March 29: Armed attack against journalist Armando Arrieta Granados in the state of Veracruz. Arrieta is the editor-in-chief of the newspaper La Opinión de Poza Rica.
- March 29: Three journalists from the TV network Al Jazeera covering news about violence in the state of Sinaloa were threatened and temporarily abducted by alleged members of an organized criminal group, who also stole their vehicle and equipment.
- April 3: Unidentified individuals broke into the offices of the news website Acapulco News in the state of Guerrero and stole equipment.
- April 3: The office of Causa en Común, a human rights organization based in Mexico City, was broken into and computers were stolen. The organization stated it believes it was an act of intimidation or an effort to steal sensitive information.
- April 8: Murder of human rights defender José Alberto Toledo Villalobos in the state of Oaxaca. Toledo Villalobos defended land rights and opposed mining projects; he also spoke out against the high costs of electricity in the area. He was a member of the National Network of Civil Resistance (Red Nacional de Resistencia Civil).
- April 13: Kidnapping of the U.S. citizen and human rights defender Hugo Castro outside of Mexico City. Immediately prior to his disappearance, Castro posted a live video on Facebook explaining that he was being threatened and followed by an organized criminal group. He was found wounded but alive in the State of Mexico on April 18. Castro works with Border Angels, an immigrant rights organization, in San Diego and Tijuana.
- April 14: Murder of the journalist Maximino Rodríguez Palacios in the State of Baja California Sur. Rodríguez was a crime reporter for the news blog Colectivo Pericu.
- April 29: Murder of the journalist and radio broadcaster Filiberto Álvarez Landeros in the state of Morelos. Álvarez worked with the radio station La Señal and was shot to death after leaving the station.
- May 7: The journalist Genaro Lozano‘s home was broken into in Mexico City. Lozano is a host on Foro TV and a columnist for the newspaper Reforma. After announcing the incident on Twitter, he received threats from users on the social network taking credit for the break in.
- May 10: Murder of the human rights defender Miriam Elizabeth Rodríguez Martínez in the state of Tamaulipas. Rodríguez Martínez was a leader and founder of the Colectivo de Desaparecidos; she was the mother of a disappeared daughter and organized with other families to search for disappeared relatives. She was killed on the day Mexico celebrates Mother’s Day.
- May 13: Seven journalists from various national and international outlets were attacked and threatened by a group of armed men in the state of Guerrero. The armed men threatened to burn the journalists alive and stole their vehicle, work equipment, cell phones, and personal documents. The journalists were on their way to cover a recent police operation in the state.
- May 15: Murder of the journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas in the state of Sinaloa. Valdez Cárdenas was an award-winning journalist who founded the state news outlet Semanario Ríodoce and also worked as a correspondent for the national news outlet La Jornada. He had recently published a book titled Narcoperiodismo, which describes the work of journalists who cover crime and drug trafficking in Mexico.
- May 15: Attack against press worker Sonia Córdova in the state of Jalisco. Córdova’s 26-year-old son, the journalist Héctor Jonathan Rodríguez, was killed in the attack. Sonia is the deputy director for advertisement at the news outlet El Costeño de Autlán; her husband is the owner of the outlet.
- May 16: Death threats against the journalist Juan Manuel Partida Valdez in the state of Sinaloa. Partida Valdez is president of the Sinaloa Journalists Association (Asociación de Periodistas de Sinaloa, ASP) and aided authorities in the investigation into the May 15 murder of the journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas.
- May 16: A former governor from the state of Coahuila, Humberto Moreira, has filed defamation and libel claims against Reforma, a national news outlet, and Vanguardia, a Spanish news outlet, for reporting on offshore bank accounts connected to Moreira and his family. In January 2016, Moreira was arrested in Spain for suspected money laundering, ties to organized crime, and misuse of public funds; he was later released for insufficient evidence.
- May 17: Attack against the journalist Marco Tulio Docastella Cuenca, editor of Docastella Magazine, in the state of Guerrero. Two individuals—one dressed in police uniform—assaulted the reporter and stole his vehicle.
- May 18: Disappearance of the journalist Salvador Adame Pardo in the state of Michoacán. Adame Pardo was reported missing on May 18, 2017. On June 26, state authorities announced that they had recovered Adame Pardo’s remains. However, Salvador’s family has rejected this claim and has requested an assessment by an independent expert. He was the director of a local TV station. A group of journalists has criticized the attorney general of Michoacán for the scope of his investigation and for criminalizing Adame Pardo.
- May 20: Murder of the human rights defenders Miguel Vázquez Torres and his brother Agustín Vázquez Torres in the state of Jalisco. The brothers were leaders and organizers of the huichol indigenous community and defenders of sacred indigenous lands. Miguel had served as president of a community commission that won a lawsuit to regain indigenous lands in September 2016.
- May 21: Disappearance of at least 80 indigenous day laborers in the state of Chihuahua. The ranch workers had denounced labor exploitation by their employer.
- May 21: Break-in at the offices of Comunicación e Información SA, the publishing company for the magazine Proceso, in Mexico City. In recent years, Proceso and its employees have been the subjects of numerous threats and attacks, including the murder of the journalists Regina Martínez in 2012 and Rubén Espinosa in 2015.
- May 22: A group of journalists in the state of Chihuahua were victims of threats and intimidation tactics by local police in Aquiles Serdán. The journalists were attempting to cover alleged abuses by authorities during a traffic accident. Police officers attempted to take the reporters’ cell phones and recording equipment, took photos of the journalists, and threatened to track them down.
- May 23: Murder of the human rights defender Guadalupe Huet Gómez in the state of Chiapas. Huet Gómez was a leader of the Tzotzil indigenous community and defended the rights of indigenous peoples. Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission has requested that the Chiapan government provide protection measures for Huet Gómez’s family.
- May 24: A journalist from the national news outlet La Jornada was denied access to a ceremony organized by Mexico’s National Defense Ministry (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA). La Jornada reported that SEDENA has excluded the news outlet from other events this year and considers it an attempt at censorship.
- June 3: Armed attack against the radio broadcaster and indigenous activist Marcela de Jesús Natalia in the state of Guerrero. She was shot outside the radio station where she hosts a show that promotes indigenous culture and identity. De Jesús Natalia is also the former president of the Xochistlahuaca System for Integral Development of the Family (Sistema de Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, DIF). Dozens of reporters in Guerrero signed an open letter to the Sate Attorney General’s Office condemning the attack and demanding a thorough investigation. De Jesús Natalia was reported to be in critical condition.
- June 5: The journalist Jose Nava Mosso is being sued in the state of Guerrero for recording and publishing a video of the state’s Electoral Court judge being arrested in a state of drunkenness. Following a long hearing, Nava Mosso denounced intimidation attempts against him and preferential treatment for the judge.
- June 6: Intimidation and threats against the journalist Leonardo Martínez Peralta in the state of Guerrero. The reporter and former president of the Zihuatanejo Journalists Association (Asociación de Periodistas de Zihuatanejo) reports that he was covering a police chase and arrest when three uniformed officers pointed their rifles at him demanding him to delete the photographs he took.
- June 8-9: Harassment of the journalist Ezequiel Flores Contreras in the state of Guerrero. Flores Contreras is a correspondent for Proceso and covers the topics of corruption, narco-politics, social conflict, and human rights in Guerrero. Flores Contreras is a beneficiary of the federal government’s Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists and had requested its support and protection. However, due to lack of coordination and effective communication between the Mechanism and the Federal Police in the state, authorities took two hours to get to Flores Contreras and did not fulfill their commitment to keep watch outside his home.
- June 12: Threats and harassment against the migrant shelter Casa del Migrante Pueblo Sin Fronteras in the state of Sonora. The shelter reports that members of organized criminal groups have directly threatened shelter staff and volunteers and have demanded the shelter’s closure. Human rights organizations and defenders have called for an urgent meeting with the state’s governor to discuss an immediate solution to the shelter’s security situation.
- June 19: The New York Times reported on the use of government-owned spyware against journalists and human rights defenders in Mexico. Well-known journalists and high-profile anticorruption and human rights advocates have been targeted by sophisticated spyware that was sold to the Mexican government on the condition that it be used only to investigate criminals and terrorists. The spyware infiltrates smartphones via a malicious link sent through a text message and allows perpetrators to monitor all phone activity, including calls, emails, and texts. The targets of the surveillance include lawyers at the human rights organization Centro Prodh, which represents the victims in the case of the 43 disappeared students and other high-profile cases. The nationally recognized journalist Carmen Aristegui, who revealed a scandal involving Mexico’s first lady, was also targeted. On July 10, it was revealed that members of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (Grupo Interdisciplinario de Expertos Independientes, GIEI), which was formed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to provide technical assistance to the Mexican government in the investigation into the enforced disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero, were also subject to this illegal surveillance. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has denied all allegations of government wrongdoing. Victims of the surveillance, Mexican and international civil society organizations, members of the IACHR, and a group of United Nations experts are calling for a transparent, independent and impartial investigation.
- June 22: Threats against the journalist David Fuentes in Mexico City. Fuentes is a reporter for El Universal and aided authorities in the investigation of a drug trafficking operation out of Mexico’s National Autonomous University (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, UNAM).
- June 23: Death threats and harassment against the journalist Sanjuana Martínez in the state of Nuevo Leon. Martinez is a correspondent for La Jornada, Proceso, and Sin Embargo and has reported on the Tlatlaya and Ayotzinapa cases. Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission has requested that the government of Nuevo León provide protection measures to address Martínez’s security concerns.
- June 26: Mexico’s National Migration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migración, INM) denounced Father Bernardo Molina Esquiliano before the federal Attorney General’s Office for alleged human trafficking. Fray Bernardino is a well-known defender of migrants’ rights working at the shelter La 72, Hogar—Refugio para Personas Migrantes in Tenosique, Tabasco. The threat of opening a criminal investigation or actual investigations against human rights defenders and journalists have been used in the past as a means to criminalize them, and it could have a chilling and intimidating effect on their work.
- June 27: Unidentified assailants broken into the home of Mario Luna Romero and burned the car of his wife, Victoria Anahí Ochoa Dominguez. Luna is a leader of the indigenous Yaqui community in the state of Sonora, and though he is a beneficiary of the Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, neither him nor his family have received effective protection from the Mechanism until now.
- July 9: Murder of the Honduran video journalist Edwin Rivera Paz in the state of Veracruz. Rivera was the cameraman for the journalist Igor Padilla, who was killed in Honduras in January of this year. Rivera fled Honduras after Padilla was killed and sought refugee status in Mexico.
- July 19: Death threats against the journalists Pedro Canché and Amir Ibrahim in the state of Quintana Roo. Banners containing death threats against the journalists were found in Cancún, supposedly signed by the “Vieja Escuela Z” offshoot of the Los Zetas Cartel. Pedro Canché, director of Pedro Canché Noticias, believes the threats came from political actors, not an organized crime group. Amir Ibrahim, editorial director of El QuintanaRoo, reports having received threats through text and phone calls since July 9 after filing a complaint against the businessman Carlos Mimenza before the Quintana Roo Attorney General’s Office and the PGR.
- July 21: Death threats against the journalist José Maldonado in the state of Michoacán. Maldonado is the editorial director of Agencia Mexicana de Noticias Noventa Grados. He received an email warning him to stop reporting on the activities of Michoacán’s public security agencies. Maldonado has received protection from the Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists since 2015, and the Mechanism is reviewing the possibility of granting him additional safety measures, including police protection.
- July 31: Murder of the journalist Luciano Rivera Salgado in the state of Baja California. Rivera covered crime for the local television channel CNR Noticias and was director of the news outlet El Dictamen. The State Prosecutor’s Office has announced that the municipal police of Rosarito, Baja California has detained the alleged aggressor.
- August 9: Murder of Lluvia Juliana González Banda, who became a human rights activist after her husband, a municipal police officer in Chihuahua, was murdered. Lluvia sought justice for her husband as well as for the disappearance and murder of other municipal police officers in the city of Madera, Chihuahua.
- August 15: Armed attack against the journalist Fredy Morales in the state of Puebla. Morales, who is a reporter for the radio station Enlace Serrano, was stabbed numerous times in his home after unknown intruders broke into his house.
- August 17: Video death threats against the journalist Héctor de Mauleón, a columnist for the national news outlet El Universal, who has been reporting on the presence of organized crime groups in Mexico City and how they operate in some neighborhoods. The video, which was posted on Twitter, is the sixth death threat De Mauleón has received through social media.
- August 22: Murder of the journalist Cándido Ríos Vázquez in the state of Veracruz. Mr. Vázquez is the first journalist to be killed while under the protection of the federal Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists. A contributor for the Diario de Acayucan and founder of La Voz de Hueyapan, Ríos Vázquez covered crime and police issues and has reported having received threats from local authorities for his coverage. He is the third media worker to be slain in Veracruz under the current state administration. On August 13, he posted a video to his Facebook account where he is seen talking about the importance of free speech in Mexico.
- August 23: Harassment of human rights defender and Bishop of Saltillo, Raúl Vera López, in the state of Coahuila. On July 5, Vera—along with other prominent human rights defenders and organizations—presented information to the International Criminal Court about human rights violations in Coahuila that could amount to crimes against humanity. Since then, public officials in Coahuila have made statements calling into question the Bishop’s professional trajectory as a human rights defender and his commitment to justice. This is another example of how authorities in Mexico use the investigative competency of the Attorney General’s Office to intimidate defenders.
- September 6: Homicide of journalist Juan Carlos Hernández Ríos in the state of Guanajuato. Juan Carlos is the twelfth journalist killed in Mexico this year, according to WOLA’s account. The contributor for the digital news outlet La Bandera Noticias was leaving his house in the municipality of Yuriria when he was murdered by two men waiting for him outside of his of home. Juan Carlos had been covering the dire increase of executions in Yuriria and other municipalities of Guanajuato, as well as a recent wave of violence never seen before in those places. He also collaborated with Alejandro Chávez, another journalist from La Bandera who received death threats in 2016 and 2017 after reporting on the involvement of municipal authorities in a case of land dispossession.
Any act of aggression toward journalists and human rights defenders is unacceptable, but it is especially alarming when journalists and defenders are the victims of violent physical attacks and murder. Twenty of the cases reported this year have resulted in the death of the defender or journalist: Isidro Baldenegro López, Juan Ontiveros Ramos, Carlos Alberto García Martínez, Cecilio Pineda Birto, Ricardo Monlui Cabrera, Miroslava Breach Velducea, José Alberto Toledo Villalobos, Maximino Rodríguez Palacios, Filiberto Álvarez Landeros, Miriam Rodríguez Martínez, Javier Valdez Cárdenas, Héctor Jonathan Rodríguez, Miguel Vázquez Torres, Agustín Vázquez Torres, Guadalupe Huet Gómez, Edwin Rivera Paz, Luciano Rivera Salgado, Lluvia Juliana González, Cándido Ríos Vázquez, and Juan Carlos Hernández Ríos.
In Mexico, federal and local mechanisms for the protection of defenders and journalists already exist, including the Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists. The public prosecutor’s offices throughout the country, including the federal Attorney General’s Office, are obligated to investigate crimes against journalists and defenders. However, the recent cases demonstrate that until now such mechanisms have not been effective in preventing attacks against journalists and defenders or in meeting their protection needs. Impunity for these cases and previous attacks and crimes perpetuates and worsens the cycle of violence and abuse: when there are no serious investigations or consequences for crimes against journalists and defenders, the Mexican government sends the message that these attacks will not be punished.
The trust of defenders and journalists in Mexico is not won with promises, but rather with results: with greater freedom and better conditions to carry out their work, with the reduction of threats and attacks, and with justice for crimes committed against them. There are various reports regarding the ways in which the Mexican government could strengthen its mechanisms to protect defenders and journalists, including an analysis by WOLA and Peace Brigades International (PBI). It is Mexican authorities’ responsibility (including federal and local authorities) to guarantee the well-being and security of journalists and human rights defenders.
Mexican authorities should take immediate steps to ensure that armed attacks, such as the cases documented during the first eight months of this year, do not continue to occur. One of the first steps should be to make a strong public statement recognizing the valuable work that journalists and human rights defenders carry out in Mexico and assuring the public that these cases will not end in impunity.
It is important to highlight the geographic context, as well as the courage of the defenders and journalists who have been victims in the recent attacks. Many of the states where the recent attacks occurred experience serious problems with violence, the presence of organized criminal groups (including cases of collusion between criminal groups and authorities), internal displacement, and human rights violations. The recently attacked journalists and human rights defenders spoke out and reported on many of these issues. Moreover, these states have a history of repression against journalists and human rights defenders, as well as against the general population, which has not been investigated or sanctioned. Even in such hostile and dangerous contexts, journalists and defenders carry out important work to document, denounce, and bring to light news and events.
Given the current circumstances, the Mexican government must provide more than empty promises, generic statements, and justifications. Mexican authorities must make concrete commitments to protect journalists and human rights defenders and guarantee justice for violence committed against them.
*Note: This statement was originally published on March 27, 2017. It was updated on September 7, 2017 to include additional cases of violence against human rights defenders and journalists.