“The Mexican government doesn’t care about the journalists,” investigative journalist Anabel Hernández recently told the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.
That is her conclusion when she looks at the seven murders of journalists in Mexico this year alone, the reigning impunity in cases of violence against journalists and the lack of protection for threatened journalists.
And she only sees the situation getting worse, for journalists and for society as a whole.
In light of these seven murders, Article 19 reported that it is the deadliest year for the Mexican press since President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in 2012.
Additionally, those who kill journalists in Mexico generally do so with impunity; the country ranks 8th on the Committee to Protect Journalist’s 2015 Global Impunity Index.
For the past several years, Hernández has routinely been threatened because of her work investigating corruption.
In 2010, the government assigned her 24-hour police escorts after sources told her that the head of the Public Safety Secretariat, the former chief Mexican law enforcement agency, was planning to have to her killed.
Then, on Dec. 21, 2013, a group armed with AK-47 rifles and handguns blocked access to the street where she lived in Mexico City and broke into her home. They identified themselves as both agents of the Federal Police and then as members of the Zetas organized crime group.
The following August, she left for the United States after receiving numerous threats; she now works with the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California at Berkeley, limiting her time in Mexico.
And now, on Nov. 4, she received word from her neighbors in Mexico City that someone had broken into her home in the middle of the afternoon. They pointed at security cameras placed outside her home, making no efforts to hide their faces. Inside, they found a photo of Hernández and her children that had been put away. They placed it facedown in a visible part of the room. They rummaged through her things for about 20 minutes before they left, taking nothing with them.
Hernández reported the incident to authorities who then went to the house, took fingerprints and witness accounts. Yet, no one is in jail.
Hernández said she does not want to speculate about who it was, but she is convinced it was not a robbery and is “very worried that this is related with my journalistic work.”
She is currently working on two “very sensitive” investigations: the 43 students who disappeared from Iguala in 2014 and the escape of drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera from a maximum security prison in July 2015.
In articles she has published about these investigations, she’s found evidence that contradicted official accounts and implicated authorities. She has focused on the Center of Investigation and National Security (CISEN for its acronym in Spanish), the federal police, and in the case of Ayotzinapa, also the army. (Editor’s note: see below story for links to the coverage)
Hernández, who is also currently under the federal government’s embattled Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, recognizes a contradiction in asking the federal government for help.
“For me, it’s insane to have to ask the PGR [Attorney General of the Republic], ‘please do a good investigation related with my case,” when the last 12 months I have been writing articles against the PGR, denouncing that they did a very bad job related with the investigation of the 43 missing students.”
As before, Hernández alerted authorities following the Dec. 4 incident.
“I know that many journalists in Mexico, with many reasons of course, don’t trust in the institutions, me neither. But I think that even then, if we don’t use the system, we can’t show that it doesn’t work,” Hernández said.
She also shared her story on national and international media. On Nov. 24, the Huffington Post published a letter from Hernández detailing the attack that occurred just 20 days earlier. Mexican publications, like Proceso, posted similar letters.
When asked why she wrote those articles, she said: “And in Mexico, there is a huge problem related with the free press and that is a big problem for everyone. I really think that when one journalist is attacked, me, Lydia Cacho, Carmen [Aristegui], [Rubén] Espinosa, any other, the problem is not us, because it’s not an attack against us, it’s an attack against the free press, the free information. And the society deserves to have that information. How can the society make important decisions if they don’t have the correct information?”
Each new threat plays a psychological game on journalists, Hernández said. Is it the last call or does someone just want to make them feel fear?
Hernández, like many other Mexican journalists, continues to work despite the threats she continues to receive. She is working on a book about the disappearances of the 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teacher’s college.
“When you live for many years under this pressure, you just try to survive and keep trying to have control over your life. Because of that, journalism in Mexico is still alive,” Hernández said. “Because [there are] many people, many people, in all the states, that believe that even as other people try to threaten us, try to make us feel scared, even all those things, we try to keep doing the job because we believe in this, because this is the only life we have, this is the only country we have. If we don’t learn to survive through this, everyone will move from Mexico, every journalist? So, what will happen?”
Links to selections in Proceso of some of Hernández and Steve Fisher’s coverage of the missing Ayotzinapa students:
“Iguala: la historia no official” (12/13/14)
“La ‘verdad histórica’ se cae a golpes” (1/31/15)
“Ayotzinapa: la reconstrucción de hechos confirma la presencia de la PF” (3/28/15)
“Ayotzinapa: las aberraciones de la investigación” (5/16/15)
“Ayotzinapa: se caen piezas clave de la version oficial” (7/13/15)
“Ayotzinapa: inocultable, la participación militar” (9/5/15)
“Ayotzinapa: los ‘sicarios’, sólo albañiles tortuados” (9/12/15)
Links to selections from some of Hernández’s coverage of El Chapo and El Altiplano in Proceso:
“Cuando ‘El Chapo’ puso de cabeza al penal del Altiplano” (7/12/15)
“El gobierno le dio vía libre a ‘El Chapo’” (7/18/15)
“Deja el gobierno intacta la red criminal de ‘El Chapo’” (7/25/15)
“Errores y complicidades detrás de la fuga de ‘El Chapo’” (8/1/15)
“La fuga de ’El Chapo,’ paso a paso” (8/4/15)
“El Altiplano era la oficina de ‘El Chapo’” (8/8/15)
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.