Disappeared journalist found dead in Veracruz, Mexico

Update (Jan. 26, 2015): The body of journalist José Moisés Sánchez Cerezo was found in the early hours of January 24, according to the Office of the Attorney General (PGJ) in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The journalist had disappeared on January 2, when armed and unidentified individuals pulled him from his house, located in Medellín de Bravo.


According to the authorities, an investigation of the event led to the capture of Celemente Noé Rodríguez Martínez, a member of a gang involved in drug-trafficking in the city and an ex-employee of the former inter-city police, who confessed to have participated in the crime that took place on January 2, acting together with five other individuals.


In his confession, Rodríguez Martínez stated that the killing of the journalist had been ordered by the assistant chief of the Medellín Municipal Police as well as body guards and chauffeurs working for the city mayor, Omar Cruz Reyes, who has been linked to the crime investigation, according to the PGJ.


The order to kill was given as a consequence of the journalistic work undertaken by Sánchez, who had been following drug sales in the city.


Original: The mayor of Medellín de Bravo, east of Mexico, was scheduled to appear before the Public Ministry of Veracruz to answer questions related to the kidnapping of a local journalist which took place on January 2.


Press advocacy organization Article 19 reported that it received anonymous information that “[Moisés] Sánchez Cerezo’s journalism and activism had angered the mayor of Medellín de Bravo, as ‘three days before the disappearance of the journalist, he heard from a reliable source that mayor Omar Cruz Reyes intended to silence him by teaching him a lesson.’”

The Attorney General’s office, which invited Cruz Reyes to answer questions about the case, said the mayor had shown willingness to participate in the investigation.

According to a release from the office: “He has publicly declared his willingness to collaborate in the investigations and this is the moment in which he will be able to offer the information within his reach; we respect the Law and we invite him to give his testimony, given the privileged status that he enjoys as City Manager."

Neighbors told relatives of Sánchez Cerezo that they saw three vehicles filled with heavily armed men arrive at the journalist’s house in Medellín de Bravo around 7:30 PM on January 2, according to AGN Veracruz. The men took Sánchez Cerezo, along with a computer, camera and several cell phones.

Sánchez Cerezo owned, directed and edited the newspaper La Union in Medellín de Bravo. News outlets and advocacy organizations reported that the print, and later, online publication was critical of local government and reported on area violence.

Since the disappearance, the Attorney General’s Office of Veracruz detained municipal police from Medellín for questioning. The Guardian reported that the entire police force of 36 was detained.

On January 5, a body was found on area highway Soledad de Doblado. AGN Veracruz has since reported that Sánchez Cerezo’s son said it was not his father’s body.

Journalists rallied in the Veracruz capital of Xalapa on January 5 for federal intervention in the case, and again on January 9 to ask the Attorney General’s Office for information relating to the investigation. Protests for the journalist also have been held in other Mexican cities, including the capital.

Relatives of Sánchez Cerezo, activists, and local media outlets have been critical of the search for Sánchez Cerezo and the investigation of the case.

The journalist's family protested outside the World Trade Center in Boca del Río on January 7 while Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto visited the area. They asked for the president’s intervention in the case.

In her editorial “Moisés: Una víctima del estado”, Silvia Núñez Hernández detailed interactions between the missing journalist’s family members and government officials in which the latter appear to attempt to manage the protestors during the visit.

The columnist for AGN Veracruz also wrote that Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte de Ochoa was late in publicly commenting on the kidnapping and used a tone of “mockery and disdain” to minimize the act, referring to Sánchez Cerezo as “a taxi driver and neighborhood activist.” She said it was done so as not to attract the attention of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression, which is a national entity responsible for investigating crimes against journalists.

CPJ reports that since 2011, at least three, but potentially nine journalists have been killed in Veracruz in relation to their work and that another three have disappeared.

Mexico was one of the deadliest countries for journalists in 2014, according to a year-end CPJ report. It is also ranked 7th in the organization's Global Impunity Index for cases of murdered journalists.

Other advocacy organizations have also voiced concern that a trend of violence against media workers has continued in the region.

“We are concerned that the year has begun with indications that acts of violence against journalists are going to continue,” said Claudio Paolillo, chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information.

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.