Following new investigation into 2012 murder of Mexican journalist Regina Martínez, groups call on federal authorities to reopen case

“She did journalism of checks and balances. She herself became a counterweight,” said a colleague and close friend of Regina Martínez Pérez, the murdered Veracruz correspondent for Mexican magazine Proceso.

Nine years after she was killed, journalists that have not forgotten her case continue to demand justice for Martínez. Recently, an investigation by a coalition of international human rights organizations revealed several leads about the crime and listed urgent guidelines for the Mexican judiciary to reopen the case.

This coalition, A Safer World for the Truth, is made up of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF, for its acronym in French) and Free Press Unlimited (FPU). The objective of this new collaborative project is to seek justice for crimes against journalists. Its first investigative case was that of Martínez, who was brutally murdered at her home in Xalapa, Veracruz, on April 28, 2012.

“Veracruz has been such a violent place for journalists. And I think the murder of Regina Martínez represents or is a much wider problem,” Jos Midas Bartman, author of the report and coordinator of investigations of FPU, told LatAm Journalism Review (LJR).

For almost a year, a team from the coalition interviewed different witnesses and exhaustively reviewed the files of the prosecutor's investigation into Martínez's death. The result was the report “The murder of Regina Martínez Pérez: An opportunity for justice,” which was finally presented on March 17, 2021.

“We were helped by a few Mexican reporters, local reporters, that assisted Ioan Grillo during his visit and that were part of the investigation. So they played a crucial role in getting access to certain contacts and also to certain information and to have a better understanding of what happened,” Bartman said.

Grillo, who was one of the lead field investigators for the report, has covered drug cartels and organized crime in Mexico for several years. While the pandemic caused much of the project to be developed remotely, Grillo was one of the reporters in the field, along with local journalists.

The report's journalists and investigators followed strict security protocol in Mexico, Bartman said. Every contact and investigation they made in Veracruz was planned in great detail so that everyone could be protected, he added.

According to the document, there are several gaps and several leads that were not considered in the official investigation of the Attorney General of the State of Veracruz. For example, after interviewing several of Martínez's colleagues and the man convicted of her murder, the report questioned the legitimacy of the prosecution’s official version, that Regina was strangled by one of her sexual friends, alias “El Jarocho,” with whom she allegedly had several beers at home.

“The official story of the murder is extremely out of character for Regina,” the report concluded.

"Her work was indispensable," one of her colleagues, who preferred not to reveal his name, told LJR. “She was super diligent, out of her notes came like five or six different articles, it was like breaking a cake of information… And she was very, very, very careful and reserved, she had many personal security codes. For example, I never went into her house, ever.”

The only person sentenced to 38 years in prison for qualified homicide and qualified robbery in Martínez’s case was José Antonio Hernández Silva, who allegedly was an accomplice of “El Jarocho” at the crime scene. According to the report, Silva said in an interview with Grillo that he was detained a month before being presented publicly as the confessed murderer of the journalist. During that time, Silva was allegedly tortured to sign a confession, it added.

Before the interview with Grillo, Silva had not given interviews to any journalists, Bartman said.

The authorities did not consider nor explore that the motive for the crime, the report indicated, was Martínez’s profession as a journalist. In one of her last publications for Proceso magazine, “Dos regresos peligrosos” (Two dangerous returns), the journalist revealed that two candidates for Congress had alleged links to organized crime.

According to the investigations in the report, the investigation of Martínez's murder has many flaws at the state level, and “there are strong indications of obstruction of justice by investigators” from the Attorney General's Office of the State of Veracruz.

In its final recommendations, the report suggests that the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (Feadle) assert its jurisdiction and reopen the investigation of the crime. And in that effort, it recommends, Martínez's profession should be included as a line of investigation of the crime. The Prosecutor's Office must also observe, according to the report, all the errors that exist in the Veracruz prosecutor’s office investigation and must guarantee the protection of witnesses.

The investigation also makes recommendations to the Attorney General of the Republic of Mexico. In these, it asks to investigate the disappearance of the other official suspect, "El Jarocho,” who is still missing.

For all this, the report asks the Mexican government to provide Feadle with all the necessary resources.

LJR attempted to contact the Attorney General of the State of Veracruz and of the federal government, but received no response as of publication time.

Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ representative in Mexico, told LJR that it is of "utmost importance" that cases like Martinez's are investigated and made visible. “We consider that impunity in crimes against the press in Mexico –above 90%– is the main factor that continues to encourage people who commit them ... We want the public not to forget cases like Regina's, because only through public opinion do we have the best tool to pressure the authorities.”

“Mexico has long been one of the most dangerous places for journalists to work,” said Joel Simon, executive director of CPJ, in a release from the organization. “Reopening the case of Regina Martínez is an important step to doing just that.”

Regina Martínez was a brave journalist, who died for telling the truth. Her murder must be resolved and justice must be achieved,” said Christophe Delloire, secretary general of RSF.

In December 2020, the international collaborative journalism network Forbidden Stories published – in a collective effort with 25 other media outlets around the world – an investigative series on murders of journalists, “The Cartel Project,” which began with Martínez’s case.

Mexico's Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Proceso magazine were the organizations that participated the most in this first case in the series, for obvious reasons.

For its part, OCCRP has continued its investigation project into the murder of Martínez, but it is still under development.

Mexico continues to be one of the deadliest countries for journalism in Latin America and the world. According to CPJ, 21 journalists alone have died between 2011 and 2020 in Veracruz.