22 June 2011

Journalist and his family killed amid relentless attacks on press

A journalist who wrote about security and drug trafficking was killed in his home with his wife and photographer son in the eastern port city of Veracruz on 20 June, underscoring Mexico's cycle of violence, report ARTICLE 19, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) and other IFEX members, who are calling on the Mexican government to take "concrete" action.

Miguel Ángel López Velasco, the deputy director of the Veracruz daily "Notiver", his wife, Agustina Solano, and their son Misael, 21, were killed by unidentified assailants who broke into their home in the early morning. The couple's two other children do not live at home, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Under the pseudonym Milo Vela, López wrote a column focusing on local government corruption, drug trafficking and crime for "Notiver", one of the most widely-circulated dailies in the region.

According to ARTICLE 19, Misael was a photographer who sometimes accompanied his father on shoots involving police and public safety.

In statements to the press, the state's governor, Javier Duarte, promised a full investigation and stressed that the state of Veracruz would not be a home for impunity. But according to ARTICLE 19, Veracruz is not exactly a model to uphold; in May 2006, the state government announced the creation of the State Commission Protection of Journalists, but three years later, Veracruz was the state with the second highest number of attacks against the press. Plus, last year, most cases were thought to have been perpetrated by government officials.

And a journalist who disappeared in March was found buried in a grave in the state of Veracruz on 1 June, report CPJ, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International. Noel López Olguín was known for criticising local corruption in his articles.

Attacks on the press in Mexico in general have been relentless in recent weeks. According to ARTICLE 19, June has been the most violent month for the press so far this year.

Police beat reporter Pablo Ruelas Barraza was found in Huatabampo, Sonora, on 13 June, apparently executed by two gunmen who first tried to kidnap him, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF). News reports said he had received death threats from criminal groups and state authorities. He had been imprisoned for five years for drug-related crimes, but RSF asked the authorities not to dismiss the role his reporting may have played in the crime.

On 7 June, Marco Antonio López Ortiz, the news editor for the "Novedades" newspaper in the state of Guerrero, was abducted by unidentified individuals in Acapulco, a tourist destination that has become a battlefield for rival drug gangs, report ARTICLE 19 and the Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social (CENCOS). His whereabouts remain unknown.

According to IFEX members, drug-related violence has made Mexico one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists. CPJ says 13 Mexican journalists have been killed since 2010, at least three in direct reprisal for their work.

The attacks also coincide with the publication of a report from PEN Canada and the International Human Rights Program (IHRP) at the University of Toronto that accused the Mexican government of being complicit in crimes against the press in a country where roughly 70 journalists have been killed since 2000. Mexico has been caught in a spiral of violence since President Felipe Calderón launched an anti-drug war in 2006. Roughly 35,000 persons, including numerous reporters, have been killed since then.

RSF is asking when the federal government will apply the new agreement on protecting journalists signed with media organisationsin November 2010.

Similarly, CPJ called on Calderón to make good on his September 2010 promises to protect the rights of journalists and make the right to free expression a priority of his government. "The future of Mexican democracy is at stake," said CPJ.

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