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Four journalists detained by military while trying to cover drug raid

(CEPET/IFEX) - The following is a 9 August 2007 statement from CEPET, an interim member of IFEX:

Four reporters from different media outlets were detained at 11:00 p.m. (local time) on 7 August 2007 in Monclova, a city in the northern state of Coahuila, while they were covering the drug raids being conducted by government agents and the military on homes there.

Manolo Acosta and Sinhué Samaniego, of "El Zócalo" newspaper, Jesús Meza González, of "La Voz de Coahuila" newspaper, and Adalberto Rodríguez, of the local television station Canal 4, face charges of possessing drugs and carrying arms. According to Sergio Cisneros Vázquez, editorial director of "El Zócalo" newspaper, the reporters deny the accusations, also saying they were held incommunicado for nearly 16 hours.

The military, headed by Commander Adrián Barrera Castorena, was presumably bothered by the fact that the journalists were covering the drug raid and taking a lot of photographs.

Cisneros Vázquez said that the authorities claim to have found some cocaine, a bottle of liquor, marijuana and a .38 calibre revolver in the journalists' possession. The journalists insist that the evidence was planted by the authorities.

"El Zócalo" director Francisco Juaristi Santos referred to the incident as "an attack against the press and society" and called the charges "absurd and ridiculous."

"We call on the authorities to respect the right to information and freedom of expression. We demand that the four journalists be released immediately, and be provided with a public apology," he said.

While the reporters were being held, a group of journalists searched for the three vehicles their colleagues had been using. They located the cars near the local military base. Inside they found the reporters' vests, as well as their video cameras and cameras, with the memories erased. They later found out that the four reporters were being detained in the La Partida military base.

Cisneros Vázquez noted that there are discrepancies between the details of the arrest according to the authorities and the information provided by the media. The authorities claim to have arrested the journalists in an area that is nowhere near where the vehicles were found.

Furthermore, the military claims that the journalists were using only one vehicle and that they were arrested at 5:00 a.m. on 8 August. Neighbours reported seeing the vehicles parked at the scene since 10:00 p.m. of the night of 7 August.

At around noon on 9 August, Federal Prosecutor Genaro Maciel confirmed that four reporters had been arrested.

According to Cisneros Vázquez, Acosta graduated in May and has been working for the newspaper for more than two years. Samaniego has been working with "El Zócalo" for eight months covering local news.

The journalists are still in detention and bail is expected to be set at an amount equivalent to US$3,000. Their employers are covering the costs of their legal defense.

According to reports, in the past week nine journalists were treated in an aggressive manner during anti-drug operations being carried out since 6 August in Coahuila State.

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