Public official sentenced for the first time in Mexico for ordering an attack against a journalist

Enrique Benjamín Solís Arzola, former mayor of Silao, Guanajuato, Mexico, was sentenced to two years in prison for ordering the attack on journalist Karla Janeth Silva Guerrero, from the newspaper Heraldo de León, in September 2014. Solís Arzola is the first public official to be sentenced in the country for assaulting a journalist, according to Animal Político.

However, according to the newspaper El Universal, criminal judge María Eugenia Chávez released the ex-mayor during an abbreviated trial hearing, which favors early release during the process. At the hearing, Solís Arzola admitted to having ordered Nicasio Aguirre Guerrero, the chief of police at the time, to hire a group of people to beat and threaten the journalist Silva for making critical statements against his mayorship.

The ex-mayor — who was detained in custody for this case since March 11, 2016 at the Centro de Reinserción Social (Cereso) in Irapuato, Guanajuato — will also have to pay a fine of 3,507 Mexican pesos (about $200) and a reparation payment for damages to the victims. Additionally, Solís Arzola will not be able to hold any public position for a period of two years, according to Animal Político.

On the afternoon of September 4, 2014, the young journalist Karla Silva was violently beaten by three attackers who broke into her workplace, the offices of the El Heraldo de León newspaper. The attackers also assaulted her colleague Adriana Palacios, who was present at the time. They explicitly told Silva that the attack was so that she would "chill" the tone of her articles, the site AM reported at the time.

Silva's lawyer, Javier Cruz Angulo, celebrated the sentence handed to the ex-mayor, according to El Universal, and stated: "We can know that the reason or the motive that Benjamín Enrique Solís Arzola had was to restrict freedom of expression because he did not agree with the critiques being made against the administration."

As a result of the recommendation made on November 21, 2014, two months after the incident, by the Human Rights Attorney of the State of Guanajuato — the entity that determined that the attack on Silva was provoked by her journalistic work — the ex-mayor published his apologies to Silva and Palacios this past Saturday, July 22. In a note published in a state newspaper, Solís Arzola apologized for having threatened and assaulted them and for having "hurt" freedom of expression, reported Sin Embargo.

Silva's assailants were apprehended and later released on bail in April 2015, reported Article 19, a human rights and freedom of expression organization, at the time. With the same benefit granted by the abbreviated trial procedure — later applied also to the ex-mayor Solís Arzola — the defendants received a reduced sentence and early release after confessing to their crime, the organization stated.

At the time, the judge who released them argued that "[the injuries] could not be proven to have endangered the life of the journalist [Karla Silva]."

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.

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