The disappearance and alleged massacre of forty-three Mexican students after clashing with police on 26 September 2014 in the southern city of Iguala made international headlines. Members of a drug cartel claim that the students were handed over to them by the police. In November the former mayor of Iguala, José Luis Abarca, was charged with the murder of a further six people who died when municipal police attacked the convoy of students. Abarca allegedly ordered the police to attack the students because he feared they were going to disrupt an event designed to promote a bid by his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, to replace him as mayor.
Impunity in Mexico remains of serious concern to human rights organisations. Inevitably, journalists are on the front line, but their disappearance is not widely reported outside the country. Reporters Without Borders claims that more than eighty journalists have been killed in the past decade and that seventeen have disappeared. These acts of intimidation are often the work of drug cartels seeking to silence reporters and bloggers who cover organised crime and related violence. However, federal and state authorities also intimidate journalists with impunity. The resulting climate of fear leads to self-censorship and undermines freedom of information.
In 2012, Enrique Peña Nieto was elected president. His government effectively ended the federal offensive against drug trafficking that was waged during Felipe Calderón’s six-year presidency, but this has not improved journalists’ safety. Peña Nieto has also implemented some measures that attempt to clarify the fate of victims and investigate those responsible. However, PEN believes that the scale of involvement of state agents in enforced disappearance in the country has not yet been properly acknowledged. Investigations into politically motivated murders are often closed quickly or beset by bureaucratic procedures. Reporters Without Borders believes that this is due to collusion between crime organisations and the political and administrative authorities, which have been corrupted or infiltrated by the cartels. In failing to clarify the fate of murdered or disappeared journalists, the authorities are violating their obligations under international law.
The recent disappearance of two journalists in Mexico highlights ongoing concern. On 2 January 2015, newspaper editor José Moisés Sánchez Cerezo was abducted from his home in Medellín de Bravo, Veracruz state, by a group of heavily armed men. His abductors also seized his computer, camera and mobile phone before bundling him into one of three vehicles. He has not been seen or heard from since.
Sánchez, aged forty-nine, is the owner and editor of La Unión, a free weekly print and digital newspaper circulated locally. Active in the community and involved in the local neighbourhood watch group, he was often critical of the local authorities’ track record in tackling crime, both in his articles and on Facebook. He published reports about organised crime, violence stemming from drug trafficking, local political corruption and government mismanagement. Recently, Sánchez had reported on – and participated in – protests against alleged abuses carried out by the mayor of Medellín de Bravo. According to his son, on 30 December, three days before his abduction, Sánchez was warned to stop his reporting by an unidentified man who approached his home. His family believes that Sánchez has been targeted for these articles and that the mayor was behind the threat. In a public statement made on 5 January, the mayor denied any involvement and confirmed that he would cooperate with the investigation into Sánchez’s disappearance.
A month earlier, on 3 December 2014, Mario Alberto Crespo Ayón, a former print journalist currently working for Uno TV, disappeared after leaving his home in Mazatlán, Sinaloa state. Shortly before, Crespo spoke with family members on the telephone and arranged to meet his girlfriend later that day. His family reported his disappearance to the attorney general’s office. Crespo previously worked for the newspapers Noroeste, Primera Hora and Línea Directa and had covered events related to public safety.
Mexico is a state party to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Enforced disappearance is defined as ‘the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person’. States must also investigate all ‘disappearances’ – cases in which a victim has been abducted and their whereabouts remain unknown, but there is no evidence that state agents were involved. Under the convention, states have an obligation to accept reports of disappearances and undertake prompt, thorough and impartial investigations, establish the whereabouts of the victim, bring to justice the perpetrators and ensure victims or their relatives receive reparations.
Readers might like to send appeals expressing serious concern about the disappearances of José Moisés Sánchez Cerezo and Mario Alberto Crespo Ayón, calling on the Mexican authorities to investigate these events, clarify the fate of the two journalists and bring any perpetrators to justice. Given that their disappearances may be connected to their work, please urge that the investigations be led by La Fiscalía Especial para la Atención de Delitos cometidos en contra de la Libertad de Expresión (Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression).
Appeals to be addressed to:
His Excellency Ambassador Diego Gómez Pickering
Mexican Embassy, 16 St George Street, London W1S 1FD
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