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Newspaper staff stops working out of fear, following killings and threats in Oaxaca

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

Three newspaper vendors killed in Oaxaca

Mexico, 9 October 2007 - Three vendors of the newspaper "El Imparcial" of Oaxaca were killed on the afternoon of 8 October 2007 as they were driving in a media vehicle on the Istmo de Tehuantepec highway.

Agustín López, Mateo Cortés Martínez and Flor Vásquez López were on their way to Salina Cruz in this southern area of Mexico when they were fired upon by men with high caliber weapons from a truck with opaque windows. The assailants fled the scene.

Luis David Quintana, editor-in-chief of "El Imparcial", told CEPET that "there is no safety at all for journalists in this region", and that following the killing, on 8 October, his entire staff of journalists stopped working "for fear of being attacked themselves".

Quintana explained that two months before, "El Imparcial" and other newspapers covered the finding of six bodies in a secret grave in the isthmus of Oaxaca. The corpses were likely the victims of a settling of accounts by drug mafias.

Following reports on this story, the newspaper received death threats by telephone against editor Gonzalo Domínguez and crime reporter Felipe Ramos.

"They were told to give the case less attention or be killed," says Quintana. "They told Felipe Ramos that they are following him and know where to find him."

Ramos and Domínguez regularly use the vehicle that was driven by the murdered vendors on the day of their killing. "We assume that they were the intended victims of the attack," added Quintana.

While Quintana says the source of the violence is uncertain, "they are definitely seeking to silence the press."

Quintana mentioned also that, one month before, another of his newspaper's reporters was threatened by a police official. "These cases are never resolved; everything ends with investigations and record-keeping. It seems that the government ignores what is going on here."

Considering the "absence of even minimal guarantees of safety", Quintana is not surprised at the work stoppage by all the newspaper's reporters. "The distributors and vendors are also not working. No one dares to try and sell the paper now; they wouldn't even try to give it away." He asserted the newspaper will continue to be published, though in much reduced form.

Quintana further asserted that the neglect of journalists' safety is not unique to his region, but is typical throughout Mexico. "Reporters are quitting all over."

A meeting of journalists in Oaxaca is being planned to draft a letter expressing their concerns to the country's president, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa.

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