Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui denounces robbery, smear campaign and threats against her

In the last week, both Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui and the news site she directs, Aristegui Noticias, have denounced a series of events that, without knowing if they are linked, bring into question how secure the journalist and her team are in the country.

On Nov. 23, Aristegui Noticias (AN) published an article in which it denounced a Nov. 13 break-in at their newsroom by five people, three men and two women. During the incident, these people forced locks, dismantled doors, rummaged through drawers and other spaces in the area, AN reported.

The men went directly to the office of the general manager as well as to that of the Special Investigations Unit of AN. From the latter, they stole a computer "which contains relevant information from ongoing investigations, as well as reports on special investigations published by the news site and requests for information made to various public entities," the site added.

During the crime, the building's concierge was subdued, beaten and drugged. He also said that one of the men told him they were looking for "data or information,” AN published.

Aristegui News said that since the incident happened, the administrators of the property denounced it before the Attorney General of Mexico City.

"Aristegui News has collaborated with the capital authorities, presenting the corresponding complaint; providing the necessary documents to prove its name and facilitated, at all times, the access of experts and authorities to gather evidence and testimonies,” it said. It also added that it delivered the videos from security cameras that captured the whole event.

The site said that it had not disclosed the fact publicly "in order to not affect the secrecy of the investigations and to prevent the work of the Attorney General's Office from being affected or obstructed and to not jeopardize the investigation and its results."

However, the decision changed when two Mexican media outlets published information on Nov. 22 about the break-in and robbery. According to AN, in the articles of each of these media outlets there were fragments of testimonies, photographs and "other fundamental elements" that could only have been taken from the official investigation file.

"Once the chain of custody of the elements that are part of the investigation and the case file, to which authority is bound, were broken, Aristegui News decided to publicize what happened and to show before public opinion the videos that were handed over to the prosecution authorities,” AN published.

According to the site, with the edited video that was published, they hope that citizens recognize these subjects and give information to the authorities because "there is no progress" in the investigation.

According to the article published by AN, nothing was taken aside from the computer despite the fact that other equipment was higher in value.

Aristegui News also denounced the existence of a smear campaign against its director, Carmen Aristegui, which began the same weekend of the robbery.

According to AN, false information began to spread about Aristegui on Nov. 11 in relation to an alleged raid of soldiers into her house on orders of the government.

On Nov. 13, the same day that the robbery occurred, a video was released through social networks that, "without citing sources," reported an alleged relationship between the journalist and businessman Carlos Slim, as well as a supposed conflict of interest on the part of the communicator, according to AN.

"The video says that the journalist 'openly defended' the interests of the entrepreneur during the discussion of the Telecommunications Reform, 'in exchange for becoming the head of news of the third television network that the entrepreneur would found to compete against Televisa,’” AN reported.

Aristegui News also denounced the launch of bots to promote the label #LosSecretosdeAristegui (#AristeguisSecrets) which became a trend on Twitter Mexico for five hours. "The publications were mostly sent by accounts that had the characteristics of a bot," the publication said.

Additionally, after the two media outlets mentioned the information about the raid and theft to the headquarters of Aristegui News, it began to receive "threatening messages, audio and photographs against Carmen Aristegui" through social networks, the site said.

Cases of persecution and harassment against Carmen Aristegui appear to be on the rise in recent years. Since the publication of the investigation "La Casa Blanca de Peña Nieto" (Peña Nieto’s White House) in which Aristegui Noticias' investigative team released an alleged case of conflict of interest of the president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, the journalist has grabbed headlines for different reasons.

The reporters of the investigative team responsible for this report were fired from the MVS radio group where Aristegui was running a daily news program. When Aristegui asked for the reinstatement of these journalists, she was also fired. Despite filing a lawsuit to get restitution, a judge ruled against her.

Recently, another judge in a separate ruling forced Aristegui to change the prologue of her book "La Casa Blanca de Peña Nieto, the story that rocked a government," for future editions.

The decision was made in the context of a lawsuit against Aristegui by Joaquín Vargas, president of the MVS group, who said that his good name was affected by what was written in the prologue which indicated that the group's managers had succumbed “to pressures and compromises" of the government.

The judge ordered that the next editions of the book include the decision of that judge as part of the reparation to damages caused to Vargas.

This decision was classified by the nonprofit organization Article 19 Mexico as "a step back in guaranteeing the freedom of expression."

However, the work of Aristegui as well as that of her team has been recognized in various instances. The research team won the Gabriel García Márquez Journalism Award in the Coverage category in 2015 precisely because of the White House report on Peña Nieto.

The team also received the Knight International Journalism Award 2016 from the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). Aristegui received this recognition in Washington D.C. on Nov. 14, a day after the robbery of her newsroom.

This week, Aristegui was chosen as part of 100 Women of 2016 chosen by the BBC. She was one of nine Latin American women who were part of this selection.

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.