By Lorenzo Holt
A number of Mexican journalists, newspapers and media outlets recently sent a formal declaration to the government of Veracruz denouncing alleged police violence against journalists while they were covering teacher protests on Nov. 21 and 22.
In the document, they condemned the actions of the Secretariat of Public Security (SSP for its acronym in Spanish) and demanded the government guarantee journalists’ physical safety.
The journalists’ letter reports that 12 journalists were attacked by Mexican police while covering the protests in Xalapa and Boca del Rio, in the state of Veracruz.
Journalists were threatened and attacked and some had their equipment stolen or damaged, according to Proceso.
The events happened just 20 days after the government of Veracruz enacted the “Alerta Temprana” (“Early Warning”) initiative aimed at protecting journalists from physical attack.
“They had orders to repress and contain the teachers’ protests through uniformed and plainclothes officers,” co-director of Pluma Libres Miguel Diaz said in an interview with the Knight Center. “The government didn’t use dialogue as is common in civilized countries, but rather used force. There is no respect for the practice of journalism in Veracruz.”
The journalists experienced violence at the hands of police while covering the events in Boca del Rio, according to freedom of expression organization Article 19. Ivan Sanchez, a reporter for MVS Noticias, was attacked by riot police and received numerous blows as well as damage to his camera, news site Notiver reported.
In another case in Xalapa, reporter Melissa Diaz had all of her equipment stolen and destroyed in front of her, according to the Article 19 report. After denouncing the attacks to the Special Department for Charges against Journalists, she was contacted by the SSP which informed her she would receive a new phone.
“However, this doesn’t constitute a reparation because I lost all of the information stored on my device,” Diaz said, according to Article 19.
Raziel Roldan, a journalist for Plumas Libres who was present at the scene, was enrolled in the Federal Protection Mechanism program for journalists. He activated the device given to him by the authorities to alert them in case of an emergency, but only received a response via telephone long after he called for help, according to Miguel Diaz.
“The device has a GPS so they know your location and should immediately send assistance.” Diaz said. “In the case of Roldan, they called him an hour later and at that point it wasn’t useful because in that hour very serious things could have happened to him.”
On Nov. 2, Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte de Ochoa signed the “State of Veracruz System of Early Warning” with the support of the Secretariat of Government (SEGOB for its acronym in Spanish), the State Attorney General of Veracruz, the State Commission for Care and Protection of Journalists and the SSP. The recent initiative was intended to pass new policies for the defense of journalists and to bolster the Federal Protection Mechanism for Journalists and Defenders of Human Rights.
“The signing of ‘Early Warning’ by the SEGOB and the Government of Javier Duarte was only to take pictures,” Diaz said. “There is no intention on the part of the Duarte government to curb aggressions against journalists.”
On Nov. 12, a little more than a week before the alleged attacks against the journalists, the Veracruz government reported that it held a conference for police staff to educate them on their professional obligations to human rights laws and the protection of journalists.
Advocacy organizations and media outlets have pointed to high levels of violence against journalists in the state of Veracruz. Three of the seven murders of journalists that occurred this year happened in Veracruz. The seventh murder, that of Veracruz photojournalist Rubén Espinosa, occurred in Mexico City, where he had sought refuge after fearing for his life.
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.