By Jonathon David Orta
Mexican activist Atilano Román Tirado was killed on Monday while giving a live radio broadcast in Mazatlan in the state of Sinaloa. Listeners of Román Tirado’s weekly radio show reported hearing gunshots after intruders entered the station and broke into the studio where the community leader was broadcasting.
According to initial reports, the attack occurred at 10:40 a.m. on Monday, when two armed men arrived at the radio station and requested information about the radio host from the receptionist. One of the men reportedly waited outside while the second made his way through the station and into the room where Román Tirado was working. He opened fire at close range, critically injuring the activist who died upon arrival at a nearby hospital.
“On air you could hear when the shot is fired, and then one of the co-workers is heard saying ‘Oh no, he killed him, killed him’,” station director Sergio Ontiveros told The Independent. “That is when the transmission cut off… the station operator dove to the floor and kicked out the master” cable.
Román Tirado was one of the leading members of the Comuneros de la Presa Picachos, an 800-member group of area residents whose land was flooded following the construction of the Picachos Dam (Presa Picachos), for which the group is named.
After dam construction began in 2006, floods displaced hundreds of families who were transferred to government housing. Community members led by Román Tirado, considered the housing to be substandard, began to organize protests to bring attention to the negative effects of dam construction.
Ontiveros told the Associated Press that “[Román Tirado] was militant in his commentaries, he was critical, very critical. His situation almost demanded that of him”.
In recent months, the community leader had increased organizing efforts, calling for protests to demand that fisherman at the Picachos Dam be required to hold fishing permits. According to Latino Post, these mobilizations had elevated tensions between community groups.
Sinaloa Governor Mario López Valdez, in a report by Voxxi, has promised that the murder will not go unpunished.
But the death of Román Tirado comes in a recent wave of violence against journalists in the state of Sinaloa and across Mexico. As reported by PanAm Post, his murder occurred one day after the disappearance of Mexican journalist Jesús Antonio Gamboa Urías, director of the political magazine Nueva Prensa, also in Sinaloa. The northern state remains a stronghold of the Sinaloa cartel and, since the fall of its leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in February 2014, the state has seen an increase in violence.
On Wednesday, citizen journalist Maria Del Rosario was kidnapped, tortured, and killed for her work exposing cartel activity in the state of Tamaulipas, further underlining concerns about the safety of journalists working in Mexico.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 30 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 1992. The country is ranked 152 out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
In response to death of Román Tirado, Reporters Without Borders released a statement through its deputy program director Virginie Dangles: “We urge authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into Atilano Román’s shocking murder and to bring those responsible to justice… Murdering a presenter in a radio studio while he is on the air shows that violence against journalists knows no limits in Mexico”.
While the Sinaloa state prosecutor’s office has initiated an investigation into the murder, at the time of writing no suspects have been named.
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.