On Freedom of Expression Day in Mexico, journalist Ana Lilia Pérez receives recognition while in exile

The Press Club of Mexico recognized on June 7, Freedom of Expression Day in Mexico, the work of Ana Lilia Pérez with the medal of "Defender of Freedom and Promoter of Progress". Pérez -- who currently lives in exile in Germany due to threats she received after revealing corruption in the state-owned enterprise Pemex -- could not travel to Xalapa, Veracruz, where the ceremony took place. Instead, the journalist wrote the following letter which we re-publish with her permission.

Pérez is the author of two books Camisas azules, manos negras (Blue Shirts, Black Hands) and El cartel negro (The Black Cartel) and was the recepient of the 2012 Leipziger Medienpreis Prize in Germany. She has written for several Mexican publications including La Jornada, El Universal, and Excélsior.

Link to the original letter in Spanish.

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Mario Méndez Acosta, President of the Press Club of Mexico.

Celeste Sáenz de Miera, secretary general of the Press Club of Mexico.

José Uriel Rosas Martínez, President of the Directors' Council of the Press Club of Mexico and its affliated groups.

Mouris Salloum.

Colleagues and Friends:

Some months ago I was notified about the decision taken by the Press Club of Mexico’s Council of Directors to award me the meal for the “Defender of Freedom and Promoter of Progress.” This honorable recognition filled me with joy, and is an incentive for me in these tragic times that I live in, as a result of my work as a journalist in a country where freedom of expression is not respected and has become one the most dangerous places in the world for journalism.

It has now been over a year that I find myself outside of Mexico, in a temporary asylum, forced by circumstances to fight to save my integrity. However, since I was notified about this recognition, and up until the very last moment, I did all what I could to attend and receive it personally. It is also symbolic that it is awarded precisely on the Day for Freedom of Expression, and in the state of Veracruz, one of the places most hurt by enemies of the press, freedom of expression, and democracy.

Unfortunately, I was impeded from traveling, due to the high risk conditions that it implied. I must explain that I find myself with the status of a political exile, under protection and security measures taken by international organizations. Therefore, I must abide by certain precautions.

For 16 years I have served as a journalist, and in recent times dealing with abuses of power, denied access to information, judicial threats, aggression, death threats, persecutions, surveillance, being followed, phone tapping… just for serving my profession.

And despite all that, I have stayed on my feet. I have done it for one sole reason: I am convinced that honest journalism—that which represents the voice, eyes, and ears of society—is an indispensable pillar for constructing a solid democracy and for the future of a country: I yearn a better future for my country.

These are dark times in which the Mexican press lives in, as wretched as the number of the more than 80 colleagues who have been assassinated in a cowardly fashion during the past decade, whose bodies have been displayed as part of a vile message telling journalists they should stay quiet. Equally terrible are the cases of missing reporters. In these days, we need to remind Mexico and remind the world that killing journalists does not kill the truth.

Today, this medal is not for Ana Lilia Pérez, but for a profession that, despite our deaths, stands up to the threats and the risk that happens in our own lives. Today the medal is called Regina Martínez, Miguel Ángel López, Yolanda Ordaz, Noel López, Roberto Marcos, Marcela Yarce, Rocío González…it is called "journalist," it is called "hope."

There are those who say that the only way to guarantee our lives is to leave behind reporting and prematurely retire from the profession. But there are also among us who believe to leave the profession is just like being dead, and I don’t want to die. I resist death, therefore I write.

Even from a distance, not a single day passes where I stop thinking that it is not insurmountable the sad history of violence, corruption, and failed democracy that Mexico currently lives in. That is why society requires accurate, objective and timely information, and that is exactly when us journalists must rise up to the occasion and fulfill our duty.

I have worked under two principles in the years that I have worked as a journalist: the ethics and the defense of freedom of expression, and the right to information. I insist that being a journalist in Mexico is a high risk profession; however, those of us who work in the profession consider it to be the essence of our lives, and we are convinced that whatever risk we may face will be worth it if we help spur the growth of democracy and a critical, independent society that practices free thinking.

If the modest work I have done has helped my country, then that is enough of an incentive to continue forth with my job. To receive this meal is a warm embrace that confirms that, despite everything, I have fulfilled with integrity my duty.

Ana Lilia Pérez, Germany, June 7, 2013


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.