In October 2005, Lydia Cacho, a Mexican writer and investigative journalist, was charged with ‘defamation’ and calumny. She had published a book entitled Los Demonios del Edén: El poder detrás de la pornografía (‘The Demons of Eden: The Power Behind Pornography’), an exposé of a Mexican child pornography ring which produced videos for sale in the United States and Europe. The charges were brought against Cacho on behalf of José Kamel Nacif Borge. A textile businessman, Kamel Nacif is cited in the book as having connections with Jean Succar Kuri, then detained in the United States and accused of heading up the child pornography and prostitution network (he has since been extradited to Mexico to stand trial).
On 16 December 2005, Cacho was arrested at gunpoint by Puebla state officials, and taken on a twenty-hour car journey from her home state of Cancun to Quintano Roo, where she was charged. Kamel Nacif did not deny knowing Succar Kuri but claimed that his reputation had suffered as a result of Cacho’s book. Events took an even more sinister turn in February 2006, when two investigative journalists revealed the contents of a tape recording of a telephone conversation between Kamel Nacif and the Governor of Puebla, Mario Marín. The businessman allegedly thanked the Governor for his part in Cacho’s arrest, and voiced his desire that the writer might be sexually abused whilst in detention.
After fighting a year-long battle, Cacho won her case and the defamation charges were dismissed in January 2007. However, throughout the court case the writer endured repeated death threats and remains under the 24-hour protection of bodyguards today. In May 2007, Cacho suffered a near-accident when some wheel bolts had reportedly been loosened on the car in which she was travelling.
Violence and threats against journalists have increased in recent years, and Cacho’s experience demonstrates the dual risk of judicial and extrajudicial harassment that Mexican writers and journalists are up against if they challenge local politicians, powerful businessmen or criminal elements (particularly drug-traffickers).
On 20 August 2007, journalist Eolo Pacheco, director of the newspaper El Regional del Sur, was attacked in Morelos, just south of Mexico City. As Pacheco was leaving the MVS radio station, where he hosts a news programme, he was abducted by three individuals who reportedly tied him up with his own jacket, forced him into a vehicle and drove him to Santa Catarina, on the outskirts of Tepoztlán, a picturesque village popular with tourists. He was then brutally beaten and threatened with murder.
When Pacheco filed a complaint about the incident with the Office of the local Attorney General (Procuraduría General de Justicia), he informed them that the attack was related to his work, since they had threatened him the entire time they held him captive. Local prosecutor Juan Manuel Ramírez Gama apparently claimed that the attack was an isolated incident, motivated by robbery.
This incident is just one of many similar ones brought to bear on journalists in Morelos state, some of whom have been dismissed from their jobs for criticising government policies that they consider harmful to the public. While in the southern state of Oaxaca, on 5 August 2007, a newspaper publisher was shot several times in what has been referred to as ‘payback’ for his coverage of theft and corruption allegedly involving the state-run oil company Pemex. He is still recovering from the attack.
Although President Felipe Calderón has emphasised a ‘personal commitment to the work of the news media’, his government has not yet taken effective measures to ensure journalists’ safety whilst practising their profession. Mexico remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for media workers.
In April 2007 President Calderón signed into federal law the decriminalisation of defamation, libel and slander. However, as PEN explains, ‘the chief failing of the legislation is that it is only effective at the federal level and writers are still at risk of criminal prosecution for defamation under state laws’. Only three out of thirty-one states have amended their criminal codes in line with the federal legislation.
The writers’ organisation has recently launched a campaign calling for the federal, state and municipal authorities to take concrete steps to safeguard the life and rights of journalists in Mexico. They are calling for ‘the remaining twenty-eight states to give immediate effect to the federal repeal of criminal defamation’, and have urged the government to ‘strengthen the capacity of police forces at all levels to investigate abuses of press freedom’ and to bring to justice those who murder or threaten journalists.
Readers may like to send appeals expressing concern at the escalating intimidation of journalists in Morelos and elsewhere. Request a thorough investigation into the attack on Eolo Pacheco and seek assurances that those found responsible will be brought to justice.
Special Federal Prosecutor on Crimes against Journalists:
Dr Octavio Alberto Orellana Wiarco
Procuraduría General de la República
Av. Paseo de la Reforma #211-213
Col. Cuauhtémoc, Del. Cuauhtémoc, C.P. 06500,
México D.F., MEXICO
Fax: 011 52 55 53 46 09 08
Update: after last month’s issue had already gone to press we learned the good news that on 20 August 2007 Larisa Arap was released from the psychiatric hospital where she had been detained.