Lydia Cacho (LR, October 2007), a Mexican journalist and women’s rights activist, has been forced to flee her native country in the wake of anonymous death threats. Cacho has long been the target of harassment, and has faced intimidation, abduction and imprisonment because of her investigative journalism. In 2005, she published Los demonios del Edén: El poder que protege a la pornografía infantil (The Demons of Eden: The Power that Protects Child Pornography), exposing a Mexican child-pornography ring in the popular resort of Cancún. A businessman, José Kamel Nacif Borge, known as the ‘King of Denim’ because of his jeans factories in Puebla, accused Cacho of libel. He is cited in the book as having ties with Jean Succar Kuri, the owner of a hotel in Cancún. At the time, Kuri had already been detained and charged with heading a child pornography and prostitution network. Kamel Nacif did not deny that he knew him, but claimed that his reputation had suffered as a result of Cacho’s book.
On 16 December 2005, Cacho was arrested at gunpoint by Puebla state officials. She endured a twenty-hour car journey from her home in Cancún to Puebla, where she was physically threatened. Upon arrival she was charged with defamation and calumny, facing up to four years in prison if found guilty.
Two months later, taped telephone conversations between Kamel Nacif and the governor of Puebla, Mario Marín, were released to the local media. Nacif offered the governor ‘two beautiful bottles of cognac’ as a token of appreciation for his part in the arrest of Cacho. After the tapes came to light, Cacho filed a countersuit for corruption and violation of her human rights. Following a year-long battle, during which she suffered repeated death threats, the defamation charges were dismissed. However, her acquittal was only the result of her case being transferred to another state where defamation is no longer considered a criminal offence.
In April 2008, the special office set up to investigate crimes against journalists in Mexico ordered the apprehension of five public employees for the illegal detention of Cacho. These included the former attorney general, a government minister, a police commander and two criminal justice system officials, who allegedly falsified paperwork in order to facilitate her arrest. Disappointingly, a court in Cacho’s home state of Quintana Roo ruled that, though there was evidence of arbitrary detention and torture, it could not accept her case for jurisdictional reasons – it recommended that she take the case to Puebla – and closed the investigation.
Even though a number of security measures were ordered by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, including the installation of a closed-circuit surveillance system at her offices, the provision of bodyguards, and a 24-hour telephone hotline to call in case of problems, Cacho has continued to receive death threats through her blog. One of them stated: ‘Lydia Cacho: the moment when you are going to turn up dead is coming soon; soon you will turn up decapitated.’ She has also reported being followed and watched by unknown individuals, some of them armed. Her appeals to police to investigate these incidents have been refused.
In 2010, Cacho published Esclavas del poder, in which she revealed the names of people in Mexico she alleges are involved in the sex-trafficking of women and girls. The English translation, Slavery Inc: The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking, is published this month by Portobello Books and reviewed by Joan Smith on page 38.
In June last year, shortly after taking part in an event in Chihuahua state in northern Mexico, Cacho received further death threats by phone and email that made direct reference to her journalism. She believes that they were issued in retaliation for her having revealed the names of alleged traffickers.
More worryingly, on 29 July of this year Cacho received a call on her hand-held transceiver, used only for emergencies. An unknown male voice referred to her by name and said: ‘We have already warned you, bitch, don’t mess with us. It is clear you didn’t learn with the small trip you were given. What is coming next for you will be in pieces, that is how we will send you home, you idiot.’ Concerned by this breach of her security system, Cacho filed a formal complaint with the attorney general and has since fled Mexico. Article 19 reported that she will remain out of the country while its protection programme for journalists develops a strategy to provide her with adequate protection.
Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to work as a journalist. According to PEN, at least forty-four print journalists, writers and bloggers have been murdered in connection with their work since 2006, and at least nine others have disappeared. Few of these attacks have been thoroughly investigated.
Readers might like to send appeals expressing concern that Lydia Cacho was threatened with death on 29 July; urging the authorities to guarantee her safety and to provide effective protection measures, in accordance with her wishes, as ordered by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights; and calling on them to order a swift, full and impartial investigation into the death threats.
Appeals to be addressed to:
Attorney General of the Republic
Marisela Morales Ibáñez
His Excellency Eduardo Tomas Medina Mora Icaza
The Mexican Embassy
16 St George Street
London W1S 1FD
Fax + 44 (0)20 7495 4035
And copied to:
Fundación Lydia Cacho
Update: On 30 July 2012, prominent Iranian human rights activist and journalist Narges Mohammadi (LR, June 2012) was released on bail. PEN continues to call for all charges against Mohammadi to be quashed.