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Protesting peasants briefly detain journalist, seize her camera

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

"Cuarto Poder" journalist harassed

Mexico, 20 September 2007 - Dalia Villatoro, a reporter with the daily newspaper "Cuarto Poder", was detained briefly and had her camera seized by members of the Independent Labour Organisation of Agrarian Workers and Peasants (Central Independiente de Obreros Agrícolas y Campesinos, CIOAC).

According to a 19 September 2007 report from the press agency of "Proceso" magazine (Agencia proceso de información, apro), the incident occurred in Las Margaritas, Chiapas, in southern Mexico, when the reporter was covering a meeting between members of that organisation and representatives of the Federal Electricity Commission (Comision Federal de Electricidad, CFE).

Villatoro arrived on the scene as the meeting was underway. Local members of an ejido (communal landholding) called "Article 27" (after the article in the Mexican Constitution that protected this form of traditional landholding) were voicing their complaints about poor service to the CFE representative for the area, Juan Carlos Sánchez Gómez.

After interviewing a peasant activist, Joel López Morales, the journalist boarded her vehicle, intending to take photographs. However, some of the peasants present blocked her way and explained to her that they were concerned that if they appeared in her photos they might be targeted for reprisal by the authorities.

"They told me that I had to surrender my camera or else not be permitted to leave. Although I asked them not to, explaining that I was only doing my work, they pushed me around and tried to forcefully remove me from the vehicle in order to hold me in the ejido's prison cell," said Villatoro.

She added that "the peasants kept me there for almost an hour, and even though the government delegate for Las Margaritas, Roberto Alfaro, asked them to let me go, they would not."

The peasants seized her camera and told her that she would have to pay a 500 peso (approx. US$45) "fine" to recover it.

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