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Growing violence against journalists in Brazil and Mexico

New research published today, 14 March 2013, by the international advocacy group ARTICLE 19 reveals that in 2012:

* 7 journalists were murdered in MEXICO over something that they reported.
* Violence against journalists and media workers in MEXICO increased by more than 20% in a year.
* 16 journalists and human rights defenders were murdered in BRAZIL for speaking out about issues.
* 1 journalist or human rights defender is murdered every 4 weeks in BRAZIL for speaking out about an issue (7 journalists and 9 human rights defenders).

The research documents the number and nature of attacks on free speech in the countries with the largest economies in Latin America.

ARTICLE 19 finds that the governments of both Mexico and Brazil are responsible for this growing problem in two crucial ways. First, agents of the state are directly implicated in violence in an alarming number of cases. Second, both states fail to recognise the true nature of the problem and their efforts to address the problem are meagre and insubstantial.

Seven journalists were murdered for speaking out. Two journalists were abducted and are still missing as a result of their work. There were eight attacks on the premises of media organisations using either firearms or explosives because of something that had been published or broadcast.

Shockingly in almost half of the cases (44%), state officials are directly implicated in that violence.

Violence against journalists in Mexico City increased by 64% in 2012, making the federal district as violent as Veracruz, which was considered the most dangerous city in the country in 2011.

Sixteen journalists and human rights defenders were murdered in 2012 for speaking about issues of public importance. Seven were journalists and nine were human rights defenders.

The Brazilian authorities often say these killings are the result of random acts of violence. Our report refutes this claim and reveals that in nearly two thirds of cases, people were murdered because they had spoken out. We investigated 82 cases where media workers and human rights defenders were the victims of violence; in 64% of those, people were, more likely than not, killed for something they said.

Worse still, state officials are directly implicated in carrying out the violent attacks in one in five cases.

The twin reports are published by the international advocacy group ARTICLE 19, which has conducted interviews with victims, their families and colleagues to provide a detailed understanding of crimes against freedom of expression. The reports provide a unique insight into attacks on free speech.

A disturbing increase in violence against journalists (over 20%) was played out against attempts by the Mexican Government to offer greater protection to journalists. A law was passed in 2012 making killing a journalist a federal crime, and requiring that all cases are investigated by the attorney general. This system is not working.

The authorities in Mexico have persistently blamed violence on organised crime in the country. Our research shows, however, that agents of the state are responsible for a staggering level of violence (44% of cases). Organised criminal gangs were responsible for violence in 14% of cases.

ARTICLE 19 notes that information flows are severely damaged in some regions as a result of violence against journalists, creating 'information black holes' across the country.

ARTICLE 19 says:
The President must ensure that the special prosecutor, who is responsible for the investigation of crimes against journalists, is given greater autonomy and the resources necessary to enable them to do their job effectively. In turn, the special prosecutor must be fully accountable and transparent.

The government frequently fails to recognise that attacks are motivated by a desire to censor people.

The Brazilian authorities claim that these killings are the result of random acts of violence. Our report rubbishes that claim and shows that in two thirds of cases, journalists and human rights defenders have been murdered because of something they said.

As an emerging global power, Brazil has a responsibility to stand by its international obligations to protect freedom of expression. Brazil must take leadership on this crucial human rights issue.

ARTICLE 19 says:
Corruption at the local level is a block to addressing crimes against freedom of expression. The government must reform Act number 10.446 (2002) to ensure the federal police can take control of investigations and the federal prosecutor can prosecute these cases at the national level.

The big picture:

Violence against journalists and human rights defenders is temperature gauge for freedom of expression in a society.

The role of journalists and human rights workers requires them to speak openly about things that others may not wish people to hear. When a journalist or a human rights worker is killed, attacked or threatened a whole society suffers. Attacking free expression shuts down the free flow of information. When a society can't speak about issues, it can't address the problems it faces.

“Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right - everyone has the right to speak freely. This is not just about journalists and human rights defenders. They have voices that speak out over the crowd. Whenever they are silenced, what hope is there for everyone else?” said Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19. “The situation in Mexico and Brazil is of great concern and needs immediate attention,” she added.

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