By Eva Hershaw
The Mexican news site SinEmbargo has demanded that authorities investigate a series of attacks, threats, and defamatory acts that have targeted the publication regularly since Oct. 8, shortly after the disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa in the state of Guerrero.
Together with social organizations Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, PEN Mexico, Greenpeace, and Article 19, Sin Embargo published an open letter on its website yesterday calling on Mexican authorities to investigate the motives and actors behind what they have referred to as “systematic attacks” on the publication.
Over the past four days, the website has been forced offline by a number of cyber attacks, while more direct threats have come via social media websites, such as Twitter and Facebook, and by way of threatening phone calls made to the organization. Earlier this week, the Facebook page of Mexican singer Belinda – with more than 7 million followers – was hacked and used to launch directed threats at the SinEmbargo content director, Alejandro Páes Varela.
But the attacks have not been limited to online aggression. Last Friday, after the website published a photo of a delegate from Cuajimalpa, Adrián Rubalcava Suárez, carrying a gun, a man claiming to be the delegate's attorney broke into the SinEmbargo office and demanded that the photo be taken down or that the members of the site “would pay the consequences.” He left after employees called the police.
“The attacks are not only targeting the content director, Páez Varela, but also other journalists working for the site, including the director general Jorge Zepeda Patterson,” SinEmbargo stated in the letter, released on their website.
The publication has filed a complaint with the Mexican Office of the Attorney General, with the support of lawyers from Article 19, an international human rights organization, and has also filed a petition on Change.org, demanding that the Mexican government investigate attacks on the news site. The petition currently has more than 2,500 signatures.
The SinEmbargo team has called the attacks “part of the institutional and social decomposition that the country is suffering,” making reference to the arrest of politicians, police officials, and the discovery of numerous mass graves that have been unearthed in the investigation into the 43 disappeared students. “The lack of conditions that would allow citizens to live in a free society has also affected informative practices.”
Earlier this week, a group of journalists were stopped by a group of men presumably working for the Mexican Office of the Attorney General (PGR) while traveling to Cocula, in the state of Guerrero, where the most recent mass grave was discovered this Monday.
A video of the encounter, published by Aristegui Noticias, shows men in plainclothes, carrying guns, as they approach and threaten a car full of journalists, demanding that they get out of the vehicle.
The attacks on SinEmbargo and the hostile encounter between journalists and authorities in the state of Guerrero reflect a general concern for the safety of journalists across the country of Mexico, where the Office of the Attorney General (PGR) has registered 102 deaths since the year 2000, according to reports by El Universal. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, according to Sin Embargo, 98 percent of these assaults remain unpunished.
According to Article 19, between January and June of this year, there have been a total of 157 attacks on journalists in Mexico – one assassination, 66 physical attacks, 28 threats, and 17 legal actions – taken against journalists in Mexico. In 43 percent of the attacks, they underlined, the aggressor was a civil servant.
On Monday, SinEmbargo published an editorial that put the recent attacks on the website in the larger context of tragedy that has swallowed the country of Mexico:
“The attack on SinEmbargo is just a button, and perhaps quite small in the face of tragedies such as those in Ayotzinapa and Tlatlaya, but it is enough to be able to see that the reigns are loose and that the country is becoming more dangerous because it knows and it feels that it is, sadly, adrift.”
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.