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Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho named IPI Press Freedom Hero

(IPI/IFEX) - Vienna, 29 April 2010 - Mexican journalist and human rights defender Lydia Cacho Ribeiro was today declared an IPI World Press Freedom Hero, in recognition of her years-long contribution to highlighting the importance of press freedom and investigative journalism in the defence of justice and human rights.

Lydia Cacho has become famous for her reports on domestic violence, child prostitution, organized crime and political corruption, in which she drew attention to abuses suffered by women and children and the impunity often enjoyed by those responsible for the abuse. As a consequence of these reports, Cacho herself has undergone numerous attacks and received death threats.

"Through her work as a journalist and an author, Lydia Cacho has shown the importance of fair and accurate journalism in empowering people to demand their rights," said IPI Deputy Director Alison Bethel. "Not only has Cacho brought about change in her own country, but her struggle and achievements make her a role model for generations to come."

Lydia Cacho began her career as a journalist in the mid-1980s for the newspaper Novedades de Cancún, in Mexico's eastern state of Quintana Roo, on the Yucatán Peninsula. In the 1990s, Cacho wrote articles about the prostitution of Cuban and Argentine girls in the city. In 2003, Cacho wrote articles on the sexual abuse of minors for the newspaper Por Esto, including a report on a girl abused by a local hotel owner.

In her book "Los Demonios del Eden: El Poder Que Protege a la Pornografía Infantil" ("The Demons of Eden: The Power That Protects Child Pornography"), published in March 2005, Cacho accuses powerful businessmen and politicians of being involved in a child pornography ring operating in Cancún and the United States.

In December 2005, after Kamel Nacif Borge, a businessman from the far-off state of Puebla who is mentioned in the book, sued Cacho for criminal defamation, the journalist was picked up by Puebla's police. Cacho reported that police officers shoved her into a van outside the Centro Integral de Atención a las Mujeres in Cancún (CIAM), a crisis centre and shelter for victims of sex crimes, gender-based violence and trafficking, which she runs. The police officers reportedly drove her 950 miles across Mexico, jamming gun barrels into her face and threatening that she would be drowned, raped or murdered. Police later denied such allegations. Cacho, who was later released on bail, said she did not know the reason for her arrest since she had not received a subpoena.

Two months later, tapes were delivered anonymously to Mexico City's journalists, including a recording of a conversation between a businessman, identified as Nacif, and a Mexican governor discussing a plan to have her arrested and raped while in jail.

Talking to the IFEX Global Forum on Freedom of Expression in June 2009 in Oslo, Norway, Cacho said: "When I was tortured and imprisoned for publishing a story about a network of politicians, organised crime, child pornography and sex tourism, I was confronted with the dilemma: 'Should I keep going? Should I continue to practice journalism in a country controlled by only 300 powerful men, corrupted and rich? Was there any point in demanding justice or freedom in a country where nine out of 10 crimes are never investigated? Was it worth risking my life and my freedom?' Of course the answer was 'Yes!' "

About being named an IPI World Press Freedom hero, Cacho said, "Journalism is a torch/lantern that illuminates reality, and our task is to ensure that it continues to burn thanks to professionalism, ethics and the will to give voice to other people. This award reminds me that, if other people's stories are to be heard, my voice has to stay alive."

The nomination of Lydia Cacho was approved by the five-member IPI World Press Freedom Hero jury, which includes:

- Raymond Louw, editor & publisher, Southern Africa Report; IPI Fellow (chair of the jury)
- N. Ravi, editor, The Hindu, India; IPI board member
- Galina Sidorova, editor-in-chief, Sovershenno Secretno, Russia; IPI board member
- Ferai Tinc, columnist, Hürriyet Daily, Turkey; IPI board member
- H.D.S. Greenway, columnist; former editorial page editor, The Boston Globe, Boston, MA; IPI fellow

Announcing the award, chairman of the jury Raymond Louw said: "The IPI jury has selected Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho Ribeiro as one of the institution's 60th anniversary journalism heroes because of her unflinching courage in facing up to powerful politicians by exposing an evil ring exploiting child pornography and the prostitution of young girls. She exemplifies a person who has shown exceptional bravery in upholding press freedom to inform the public of the criminal abuse of young people."

Lydia Cacho will be one of 60 World Press Freedom Heroes honoured in a ceremony to commemorate IPI's 60th year of defending press freedom worldwide, at the IPI World Congress in Vienna and Bratislava, from 11-14 September 2010.

In 2000, on the occasion of IPI's 50th anniversary, IPI honoured 50 World Press Freedom Heroes at its World Congress in Boston. Two additional press freedom heroes – Hrant Dink, from Turkey, and Anna Politkovskaya, from Russia - were selected by the IPI Executive Board and honoured posthumously in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Recently, IPI named slain Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge and Lebanese anchorwoman May Chidiac its 53rd and 54th World Press Freedom Heroes. Every month until the IPI World Congress in September, the IPI World Press Freedom Hero jury will select an additional hero to make up the full 60 for this year's ceremony.

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