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Four IFEX members issue pronouncement before IACHR on freedom of expression situation

(CENCOS/CEPET/ARTICLE 19/AMARC/IFEX) - The following is a 17 July 2007 joint press release by CENCOS, CEPET, ARTICLE 19, AMARC and other organisations:

Freedom of Expression: A Right Under Threat in Mexico
To the IACHR Hearing in Washington, D.C.

As Mexico has undergone changes in recent years, the absence of the conditions required to exercise the fundamental right to freedom of expression has emerged as an ever more urgent problem.

Murders, disappearances and assaults of journalists are among the most serious manifestations of this problem, as is the fact that, so far, none of the initiatives to improve the justice system's performance have had any observable impact, let alone managed to ensure that journalists can carry out their work safely.

CONSCIOUS that freedom of expression is a fundamental right recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as in other international covenants at the regional level, signed by the Mexican State;

RECOGNISING that press freedom is essential to fully and effectively exercise the right to freedom of expression and, as well, an indispensable instrument for the functioning of representative democracy, through which citizens exercise their right to seek, receive and disseminate information;

RECOGNISING that the State's failure to prevent, investigate and punish attacks on journalists is generating a climate of self-censorship among media outlets;

PROFOUNDLY CONCERNED by the vulnerability of journalists in Mexico, given the attacks and threats on them by organised crime and drug traffickers, and the high degree of impunity the latter enjoy;

DISCOURAGED by the lack of progress on this matter by the Mexican State, especially the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Journalists (Fiscalía Especial para la Atención de Delitos en contra de Periodistas), which operates under the direction of the Attorney General's Office (Procuraduría General de la República);

CONVINCED that the full exercise of freedom of expression plays a determinant role in the strengthening of institutions and the consolidation of a democratic state where the rule of law applies;

For the purposes of the hearing to be held at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on 18 July 2007 on the "Situation of Freedom of Expression in Mexico", we make the following PRONOUNCEMENT:

1. During the previous government, led by Vicente Fox, and the first months of the administration of President Felipe Calderón, Mexico has become one of the most dangerous countries in which to work as a journalist, due to the persistence of actions by local powers, organised crime and, in particular, drug traffickers.

Murders, disappearances and assaults on journalists are now an ongoing threat to freedom of expression, and, consequently, a genuine challenge to the consolidation of Mexican democracy, due to the lack of guarantees for the safe exercise of this fundamental right.

From 2000 to 2006, 27 journalists were murdered and five others disappeared, but the number has risen in 2007. No one has been charged in the majority of these crimes, and in only eight of the cases has anyone been detained, indicating that the crimes are accompanied by the additional problem of impunity.

2. The ineffectiveness of the institutions charged with ensuring safety and with seeking justice, needed to ensure that the right to freedom of expression can be exercised, is creating the conditions for the modification of media outlets' editorial lines, to the detriment of citizens' right to information.

The practice of self-censorship is emerging as one of the survival mechanisms available to media outlets, particularly in the northern border states, where drug traffickers' violence has affected journalists more than in other places.

Silence and under-reporting of threats and assaults also demonstrate media outlets' lack of confidence in the authorities' ability to impede attacks on freedom of expression.

This is true of the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Journalists, created in February 2006 with neither the legal faculties nor the budget which would allow it to operate and produce results in the investigation of crimes and the identification of those responsible, which so far has not solved a single case.

3. Given that on 18 July, the IACHR will hold a public hearing on the situation of press freedom in Mexico, the undersigned organisations urgently call on the Mexican authorities in different bodies with judicial and political responsibilities to immediately investigate and punish both the material perpetrators and the mastermind of the crimes against journalists, as well as the crimes committed against both private and community-based media outlets. As well, they ask:

1) That the IACHR's Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression carry out a field visit to Mexico, sending its representative Ignacio Álvarez to the states with the highest incidence of murders and disappearances, in the course of 2007, to interview the journalists affected, media outlets, human rights organizations specialising in this matter, in order to prepare an in situ report on the freedom of expression situation.

2) That the Prosecutor's Office (Fiscalía) be asked to report to the IACHR on the current state of the investigations of crimes committed against journalists.

3) That the President's Office strengthen the autonomy and faculties of the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Journalists, and revise the legal framework for the investigation of these crimes at the federal and local levels, granting it administrative and legal recognition, with the participation of civil society organizations specialised in this matter and in human rights.

4) That the President's Office, through the Commission on Acts of Aggression Against Journalists and Media Outlets (Comisión de Agresiones a Periodistas y Medios de Comunicación), generate the necessary input for changes in the legal framework.

5) That the judiciary generate the conditions for public ministries to attend to and investigate the assaults, murders and disappearances of journalists, as well as acts of aggression against media outlets and community media in a specialised manner.

National Center for Social Communication (Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social, CENCOS)
ARTICLE 19-Mexico Section
Center for Journalism and Public Ethics (Centro de Periodismo y Ética Pública, CEPET)
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)

For the complete list of all the signatories of the pronouncement, see the full text of the document in Spanish:

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