As violence against journalists continues across Mexico, advocates demand greater protection measures

When a group of men entered the Silao offices of El Heraldo de Leon in September and threatened and beat reporter Karla Silva, the case became a rallying point for the passage of a protection law for journalists in the state of Guanajuato.

Shortly after the attack, journalists and community members started a petition to urge the Guanajuato state congress to approve a Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists in Guanajuato, which has not advanced since its submission in June.

“Journalists do not feel protected, given that there is a climate of impunity and corruption associated with the attacks. Because although the perpetrators have been arrested, it is not clear whether authorities have been the intellectual author of attacks or what their responsibility is,” said Raymundo Sandoval, activist and creator of the petition. “There is also no comprehensive law or any guarantees for the Herald or other media.”

The petition for a protection law in Guanajuato is an example of how journalists and human rights defenders across the country are looking to state and federal governments for help in combating what many see as the deterioration of the freedom of expression in Mexico.

It comes in the midst of a wave of violent attacks on journalists across the country. On Monday, a community leader was killed during an on-air broadcast in the state of Sinaloa and Thursday, the death of a citizen journalist in Tamaulipas, known for reporting on regional cartel activity, was announced by the killers from her Twitter account.

Freedom of expression advocacy organization Article19 found that violence against the press increased in 2013, with 330 documented attacks on journalists, including the killing of four journalists and the disappearance of another. The organization’s report said that 59 percent of the assaults against journalists were at the hands of a public servant.

Yet of the 32 Mexican states, Guerrero and Hidalgo are the only two that have established local protection mechanisms for journalists, according to a July 2014 report by Mexican Institute of Human Rights and Democracy (IMDHD).

Similar mechanisms are pending or being discussed in Nayarit, Quintana Roo, Chihuahua, the Federal District, and Oaxaca.

In terms of violence against journalists, the Federal District and Veracruz rank at the top for attacks in 2013, according to Article19.

IMDHD said that the mechanisms proposed by the State are deficient in that they focus more on improving quality of life through things like financial and health initiatives, and less on the “real problem” of providing security.

In June 2012, the Mexican federal congress passed a constitutional amendment to implement the federal Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists. This law created the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists.

This past June, the Washington Office on Latin America expressed concern about “continued shortcomings in the implementation of the Mechanism’s protection measures.”

The organization sent a letter to the Mexican Secretary of the Interior asking for support for the Mechanism at federal and state government levels and detailing what it perceives as obstacles standing in the way of the Mechanism’s implementation, including personnel shortages and processing delays for protection petitions.

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas has reported about journalists’ frustration with the Mechanism. In May of 2013, a journalist in danger of losing state-provided armed protection spoke with the Center about alleged delays in the federal program. The same month, the Center reported that a Mexican journalist in exile told Reporters Without Borders that she doubted the “effectiveness” of the Mechanism.”

The effectiveness of the federal office of the Special Prosecutor for Attention to Crimes Against Freedom of Expression, which was restructured in 2010, has also been challenged by advocacy organizations, such as Article19.

In late September 2014, the Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists wrote an article about the importance of guaranteeing press freedoms in relation to promoting open government.

“The approval of the constitutional amendment that gives federal authorities greater jurisdiction over crimes against freedom of expression is an important step forward and one that changes the legal framework for the protection of this fundamental human right,” the article states. “But to strengthen the idea of ​​a truly open, transparent and accountable government, Peña Nieto will have to make a greater effort.”

In its report, IMDHD proposed that a central system for the protection of journalists and human rights defenders “should be strengthened by exclusive coordination between the federation and state entities.”

As state and federal governments consider legislation and mechanisms that will effectively address protection concerns for journalists and freedom of expression, the community waits for answers in cases now before the court.

In Silao, the state prosecutor in Karla Silva’s case has run into resistance from the mayor, who has refused to answer a summons from the prosecutor’s office in relation to the investigation, according to am.  Authorities have already arrested four men, including a municipal police sub-director, in connection with the attack. The director of the municipal police, who prosecutors said ordered the attack, is still on the run.

After Silva’s beating and other attacks on Mexican journalists late this summer, the Mexican offices of the United Nations Human Rights Council and UNESCO released a statement asking the government “to take all necessary measures, both at federal and state levels, to guarantee the rights to life, integrity and freedom of expression of journalists.”

The state prosecutor overseeing Silva’s case recently met with UN representatives and reaffirmed his commitment to protecting freedom of expression.

Meanwhile, the petition to push for a new law in Guanajuato continues to gain signatures. As of Friday morning, more than 8,700 people signed their support.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.

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