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OPC Again Calls on Calderon to Assert the Rights of Mexican Journalists
H.E. Felipe Calderon
Residencia Official de los Pinos
Col. San Miguel Chapultepec
11850 Mexico, DF
Fax: (011.52.5) 515.5729
We write again to call your attention to a truly appalling abuse of press freedom by the mayor and municipal police of Oluta in the state of Veracruz. It constitutes an urgent call for action on your part to defend the beleaguered journalists of Mexico, but it is also an opportunity for you to underscore your determination to end the violence and lawlessness now plaguing your country and re-affirm the principle that no one, especially government officials, is above the law.
As we hope you have been informed, the incident in Oluta began when residents complained that there were armed officers in the police station who were intoxicated. According to the International News Safety Institute, the mayor of the town, Jesús Manuel Garduza Salcedo, arrived at the scene and was photographed by Enrique Quiroz García, a reporter for Notisur, as he was reprimanding one of the officers who had been arrested for being especially drunk. Angry at being photographed, the mayor grabbed the camera from Quiroz García while officers tried to take the reporter to a cell in the police station.
Edgar Irán López Hernández, a reporter for the newspaper, Órale, and Juan José Barragán, of the daily, Diario del Istmo, were in Oluta to cover a political event. They were among a group of reporters who saw the events at the police station, at about 9 p.m. When the mayor left for his home with Quiroz García’s camera, most of the reporters decided to follow him and try to persuade him to return the camera to Quiroz García. López Hernández, however, left to return the car that his newspaper had assigned to him that day. As he was driving, he called Barragán and said that he was being followed by one of the municipal police squad cars. The mayor was told of this, but shrugged off its significance and did nothing to stop the officers from following López Hernández. When Barragán returned López Hernández’s call, he heard voices threatening the reporter.
Some time later, López Hernández called Barragán and said, “Please don’t publish anything about this. Please don’t. I’ll explain later.” His colleagues decided to start looking for him. Soon after 11 p.m., they found his vehicle, abandoned and with the keys still in it, beside a gas station. According to the reporters, the mayor remained unperturbed. He sent someone to return the camera to Quiroz García, who refused to take it back until his colleague was located. The mayor then berated Quiroz García and warned him that if he refused to take the camera back it would be destroyed. López Hernández finally called his family and Barragán around midnight. He told them that he had been dropped off on a dirt road on the way to the municipality of Sayula de Alemán. He was finally found on the road, showing obvious signs of having been beaten.
López Hernández said eight Oluta police officers wearing balaclavas had stopped him and forced him into their squad car. They beat him with their weapons, threatening to kill him if the press published anything about the night’s events. The police finally dropped him off on the dirt road, after taking from him 8,000 pesos (about $625), a laptop, a still camera, a video camera and a tripod. However, when López Hernández began walking to seek help, the squad car returned. The officers got out and pointed their rifles at him. One of them ordered him to get down on his knees and put his rifle to the journalist’s head. López Hernandez swung his arm to push the gun away, at which point a shot was fired and the reporter decided to fall to the ground. One of the officers then yelled that they should leave, saying they had shot him. The officers got into the squad car and fled. López Hernández managed to make his way to a nearby house, from where he telephoned his colleagues and his family.
Quiroz García and López Hernández have filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor’s Investigations Office in Acayuca about what was done to them. The mayor, Garduza Salcedo, has said that the officer whom he reprimanded has already been fired and that, if the Public Prosecutor’s Office requires it, he will hand over the officers responsible for the actions against López Hernández. He promised that “if they are at fault, they will pay.” But no one has been arrested.
Your Excellency, we must note that while this case is particularly egregious, it is all too typical of almost weekly incidents in which police and other Mexican officials abuse journalists who are trying to do their jobs. Only yesterday, four journalists in Durango were kidnapped in Durango by unknown abductors, and have not been heard of since.
If you mean what you say about restoring democracy and human rights to Mexico, it is essential that you speak out about this case and issue strict instructions to police, military and officials at all levels of Mexican government to respect freedom of the press and actively protect journalists who are being threatened.
And as we said in our last letter just two weeks ago, it would be an excellent symbol of your resolution if you would also declare a national day of mourning in recognition of the quiet heroism of those journalists who have not been intimidated into silence by the violence of the drug wars, and in retaliation have been slain. By the count of our colleagues at Reporters Without Borders, there have been 67 journalists killed since 2000, and another 11 have disappeared since 2003.
We thank you for your attention, and hope you will respond.
Co-chairmen, Freedom of the Press Committee
Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza
Avenida Paseo de la Reforma, Nos. 211-213
Mexico, DF, C.P. 06500
Olga María del Carmen Sánchez
Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación
Pino Súarez, No.2
Colonia Centro, México, DF
Genaro David Góngora Pimentel
Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación
Pino Súarez, No.2
Colonia Centro, México, DF
H.E. Arturo Sarukhan Casamitjana
Ambassador of Mexico to the U.S.A.
Embassy of Mexico
1911 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20006
Fax: (202) 728.1698
Ambassador Claude Heller
Permanent Mission of Mexico to the United Nations
2 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017
Fax: (212) 688.8862
H.E. Antonio O. Garza, Jr.
U.S. Ambassador to Mexico
Embassy of the United States of America
P.O. Box 9000
Brownsville, TX 78520
Fax: (011.52.55) 5080.2005
Lcda. Rosario Robles
Partido de la Revolución Democrática
Huatusco # 37, 5o. piso
Col. Roma Sur, México, DF
Patricia Mercado Sanchez
Juan Francisco Ealy Ortiz
El Universal of Mexico City
Bucareli N° 8, Col. Centro
Delegación Cuauhtémoc, C.P. 06040
Ramón Darío Cantú Deándar
Fax: (011.52.5) 714.8797
The Dallas Morning News
San Antonio Express-News
P.O. Box 2171
San Antonio, TX 78297
Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520