Release of suspect in the murder of Mexican journalist Moisés Sánchez opens door for impunity, says Article 19

A former deputy police chief accused of ordering the kidnapping and killing of Mexican journalist Moisés Sánchez Cerezo was released from prison after a federal judge granted him amparo, an action to protect an individual’s constitutional rights.

This opens the door for impunity to prevail yet again in the case of a murdered journalist and shows serious shortcomings of the institution responsible for the administration of justice when it comes to crimes against freedom of expression,” said press advocacy organization Article 19.

Martín López Meneses, who has been in prison in connection with the murder for the past 10 months, said he was being used as a scapegoat and that he and the other defendants in the case are innocent, reported Código Veracruz.

Former police officer Clemente Noé Rodríguez Martínez was arrested in January and confessed that he and five other people kidnapped and killed Sánchez Cerezo, according to Proceso. He also said they were contracted by López Meneses, according to reports. Omar Cruz Reyes, mayor of Medellín de Bravo at the time of Sánchez Cerezo’s death, is accused of ordering the journalist’s murder.

Rodríguez Martínez is still in prison. Congress stripped Cruz Reyes of immunity, and, according to Proceso, he is on the run.

A judge previously granted amparo to López Meneses in May, but the prosecution in Veracruz challenged the decision, Article 19 reported. On Nov 3., a federal judge confirmed the amparo judgment for a lack of evidence.

Luis Ángel Bravo Contreras, Attorney General of the State of Veracruz, said the granting of amparo “does not imply a setback, since it in no way represents an acquittal,” according to a press release from the state government.

He said the amparo “represents an opportunity for the [prosecution] to strengthen the evidence and to add more elements, actions that will be done in a punctual manner.”

The release said "[Bravo Contreras] explained that in contradiction, the likely perpetrator, Clemente Noé Rodríguez Martínez was denied amparo, among other things, 'because the evidence on which the formal arrest was based were suitable, legal and sufficient, such as the confession that indicated that López Meneses was the person that asked them, through a member of the gang, to kill Moisés.’”

He added that any predictions that Cruz Reyes will necessarily be granted amparo are inappropriate.

On Jan. 2, 2015, armed individuals kidnapped Sánchez Cerezo from his home in Medellín de Bravo. Twenty-two days later, his decapitated body was found in the state of Veracruz.

At the time of the murder, press advocacy organization Article 19 reported it received anonymous information that “Sánchez Cerezo’s journalism and activism had angered the mayor of Medellín de Bravo, as 'three days before the disappearance of the journalist, he heard from a reliable source that mayor Omar Cruz Reyes intended to silence him by teaching him a lesson.'”

Following the murder, Article 19 filed a recurso de amparo with the Attorney General of the Republic (PGR for its acronym in Spanish) that was subsequently denied because the office determined that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to tie Sánchez Cerezo’s murder to his status as a journalist, according to Animal Político. The government concluded his principal occupation was as a taxi driver, not a journalist.

Following Sánchez Cerezo’s disappearance, columnist Silvia Núñez Hernández wrote that Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte de Ochoa used a tone of “mockery and disdain” to minimize the kidnapping and referred to Sánchez Cerezo as “a taxi driver and neighborhood activist.” She said it was done so as not to attract the attention of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression. That entity is under the Attorney General of the State.

As noted by Article 19, López Meneses was released just one day after the state of Veracruz and the Mechanism for Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists signed an agreement to “create an early alert system to prevent attacks against journalists and to allow freedom of expression.” The organization, and others, reported that a journalist was blocked from entering that event.

The event that happened yesterday, the signing of an agreement by authorities and the free exercise of freedom of expression on behalf of the citizens, is a clear example of the situation in the state of Veracruz,” said Article 19. “While touting actions of advancement to strengthen journalism through the biggest platform in the state for protecting journalists, local officials assault, in front of federal authorities, a journalist for peacefully expressing their ideas freely.”

Sánchez Cerezo founded, directed and edited weekly newspaper La Unión in Medellín de Bravo. News outlets and advocacy organizations reported that the print, and later, online publication was critical of local government and reported on area violence. Additionally, reports said he had been threatened by mayor Cruz Reyes.

Sánchez Cerezo is one of seven journalists killed in Mexico this year. In total, four of the journalists have been from Veracruz. There has been much criticism against Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte de Ochoa for his alleged treatment of and actions against journalists.

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.