Mexican journalists at risk while covering protests over rising gas prices; at least 20 attacked

Since Jan. 1, hundreds of Mexicans have taken to the streets of different cities in the country to protest the increase of up to 20 percent in the price of fuel. Some of the protests for the “gasolinazo,” as the demonstrations are known, have become violent, including looting and clashes with police with number of people killed, injured and detained.

As is often the case with violent situations, press workers have become the target of attacks and assaults while covering the events.

Freedom of expression organization Article 19 Mexico recorded that at least 12 journalists were assaulted during the coverage of the protests in Playas de Rosarito in the state of Baja California on Jan. 6 and 7. According to the organization, attacks against the press include physical aggression, intimidation, information blockades, destruction of equipment and even attempts at arbitrary detentions.

For example, journalist Laura Sánchez of El Universal and Luis Alonso Pérez of Animal Político reported that they had been beaten by members of the gendarmería, part of the federal police, during the Jan. 7 protests. According to what she told Article 19, Sánchez was recording the detention of a minor when she was beaten in her chest by an agent. Pérez also recorded the detention and they tried to remove his cell phone, which was later thrown to the floor where he was kicked by at least eight agents and later detained for almost an hour, Article 19 reported. Trying to mediate for her colleague, Sánchez was beaten again.

Other reporters from media like El Sol de Tijuana, Frontera, Uniradio Informa, Síntesis Televisión and even the Associated Press were among those affected in the protests of this state.

According to Article 19, the events recorded in Baja California were perpetrated entirely by state forces. The organization pointed to the Federal Police, State Police, Emergency Response Unit (URI for its acronym in Spanish) that is part of the Tijuana Municipal Police, as well as the Baja California Police.

The organization also recorded attacks to at least eight journalists in the city of Monclova, in the state of Coahuila, during the Jan. 5 protests. Attacks included physical aggressions, arbitrary detentions, intimidation and threats were also recorded. The organization also pointed to police forces as the perpetrators of these aggressions.

The “alarming increase of aggressions and repressive acts” by the public force against journalists and demonstrators led Article 19 to activate the network Rompe El Miedo (Break the Fear) with the purpose of monitoring protests in Mexico City on Jan. 9.

The network “is a joint platform for media” and human rights defenders that has as its objective “the protection and security of people and their work in the coverage of social mobilizations or high risk.” The network has been activated in 17 protests in Mexico City and in elections at the national level since it was created in 2013.

“Article 19 urges the authorities of Mexico City and the Federal Government to take necessary measures to guarantee the rights of freedom of expression, information and protest. Also, that the deployment and police action are proportional and adhere to human rights standards,” the organization said on its site.

For its part, the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH for its acronym in Spanish) granted precautionary measures to journalists who were injured in Baja California.

In a statement requesting precautionary measures, the CNDH also asked the National Security Commission (NS) to instruct the police to “ensure that those who cover the mobilizations for the increase in the price of fuel as part of their journalistic work can do so without being assaulted or hindered by public servants of such organizations.”

Likewise, the country’s Monitoring Commission on Aggressions and Media of the Chamber of Deputies rejected the assaults and called for the authorities to give the “example, respecting and permitting the work of journalists who cover all these activities,” according to Noticias MVS.

The protests have continued in some cities of the country. For example, on Jan. 9, 15 protests were recorded on highways in Hidalgo, Mexico City, Durango, Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Oaxaca, according to Animal Político.

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.