In August, MacLehose Press published The Sorrows of Mexico, a timely collection of writings from seven of the country’s leading journalists, including Lydia Cacho, Anabel Hernández, Diego Enrique Osorno and Juan Villoro. Their essays and reportage underline the dangers faced by outspoken writers, journalists and students in Mexico and the crimes against free expression that continue to be committed with impunity.
A recent victim is Noé Zavaleta, Veracruz state correspondent for the weekly news magazine Proceso. Ahead of the launch on 10 August of his book El infierno de Javier Duarte: crónicas de un gobierno fatídico (‘Javier Duarte’s Hell: Chronicles of a Fateful Government’) about corruption in the administration of outgoing state governor Javier Duarte, Zavaleta suffered intimidation, threats and a smear campaign. The book is a searing critique of Duarte’s rule: Zavaleta claims that since Duarte came into office in 2010, Veracruz has become a narco-state where nepotism, corruption, violence and impunity are rife.
According to Proceso, Zavaleta has been threatened and insulted on social media by José Abella, a businessman and owner of the regional newspaper El Buen Tono, for highlighting his lucrative advertising contracts with the state government. Zavaleta has also received anonymous threatening messages from email accounts and websites associated with the state government and is particularly alarmed by recent messages that try to link him to the organised crime cartel Los Zetas.
Zavaleta now fears for his life after receiving a tweet on 8 August that stated ‘dices que te amenazan solo para darte publicidad, pinche escritor fracasado. Ya sé dónde vives’ (‘you’re only saying you’re being threatened to get publicity, you fucking failed writer. Now I know where you live’).
Proceso and its correspondents have expressed concern at these threats against Zavaleta, which, they claim, undermine his journalistic work and increase his vulnerability to attack. The newspaper has stated that it will hold Abella and the government of Veracruz responsible should anything happen to him.
Zavaleta has reported the threats to the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists. He has reportedly also lodged a formal complaint against Abella for alleged coercion and threats with the State General Prosecutor’s Office’s Special Prosecutor for Electoral Crimes and for Crimes against Freedom of Expression, and is considering bringing a similar complaint before the federal attorney general’s office.
There is a history of violent, often fatal, attacks on Proceso journalists and other reporters in Veracruz. In these pages I have written about the murder of 46-year-old Juan Mendoza Delgado (LR, September 2015), editor of the local news website Escribiendo la verdad (‘Writing the Truth’), whose body was found on the Santa Fe–San Julián de Veracruz motorway in July 2015. Shortly before Delgado’s death, Duarte linked some journalists to organised crime and warned them to ‘behave’. I’ve also written about the disappearance of newspaper editor José Moisés Sánchez Cerezo (LR, February 2015), who, on 2 January 2015, was abducted from his home in Medellín de Bravo, Veracruz, by a group of heavily armed men. He has not been seen or heard from since.
According to PEN, Veracruz is the most dangerous state in Mexico in which to be a journalist. Since 2010, when Duarte became state governor, eleven print and internet journalists have died. Regina Martínez, also a correspondent for Proceso based in Veracruz, was murdered at her home on 28 April 2012. Rubén Espinosa, photojournalist for the magazine, was killed in Mexico City on 31 July 2015 after relocating from Veracruz because of death threats.
Three print journalists have been killed in Veracruz in 2016 alone; Article 19 reports that the state had the highest incidence of attacks on journalists in the first four months of this year.
Readers might like to send appeals calling on the state and federal authorities in Mexico to provide journalist and author Noé Zavaleta with immediate protection and ensure his safety so he can carry out his work without fear; to investigate the threats against Zavaleta and bring those found responsible to justice; to end the harassment of Mexican journalists for their work; and to provide them and all Mexican citizens with the protection they need in order to safeguard their right to freedom of expression.
Appeals to be addressed to:
David Najera (Acting Ambassador)
16 St George Street
London W1S 1FD
Fax: +44 (0)20 7495 4035
Fiscalía Especial de Atención a Delitos en contra de la Libertad de Expresión (Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression)
Benita González Morales
Comisión Estatal para la Atención y Protección de Periodistas (State Commission for the Protection of Journalists)
Messages of solidarity can be sent to Noé Zavaleta via Twitter at @zavaleta_noe
Updates: Thai student activists Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong (LR, December 2015/January 2016) have been released early following a royal pardon. Saraiyaem and Munkong have been in detention since their arrest in mid-August 2014. They were sentenced to two and a half years in prison on 23 February 2015 after being charged with lese-majesty following the performance of a play that depicted a fictional monarch.
PEN continues to call for the release of Egyptian writer Ahmed Naji (LR, April 2016), who was sentenced in February to two years in prison for ‘violating public modesty’ in relation to the publication of excerpts from his novel Istikhdam al-Hayat (‘The Use of Life’). Naji has now served almost seven months of his sentence. No date has been set for his appeal, despite it being filed in late April.