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Two reporters investigating construction irregularities assaulted

(CENCOS/IFEX) - Reporter Efraín Núñez Calderón and photojournalist Ulises Ruiz Basurto, both of the Puebla-based newspaper "Cambio", were assaulted on 9 January 2008 as they were investigating irregularities and delays in the construction of a hospital in the state capital.

The assailants, who were at least six in number, were recognized by the journalists as staff from the state urban development and public works secretariat (Secretaría de Desarrollo Urbano y Obras Públicas, SEDUOP) and from the security escort of Óscar García, the owner of the construction company involved (Construcciones Mova y Diseños Arquitectónicos e Ingeniería de Puebla). García is considered to be well-favoured by the state governor, Mario Marín Torres, who, with Camel Nacif, has been linked to a pedophile ring in a book by persecuted journalist Lydia Cacho (see IFEX alerts of 3 December, 30 November, 25 June and 3 January 2007, and others).

The two journalists had appeared on the hospital construction site to conduct their investigation when García arrived by car and refused to answer their questions. The businessman instead ordered his bodyguards to remove the journalists from his path, following which the bodyguards and other individuals immobilized and assaulted the journalists.

The assailants held the journalists for 15 minutes, during which time they punched and threatened them. They seized Ruiz Basurto's digital camera, deleting all the images from its memory and damaging it in the process so that he could take no more photographs. They also seized Núñez Calderón's cell phone and his audio recording device. A police officer, José Fernando Ahesa, assisted the assailants in the seizure of the camera.

Núñez Calderón informed CENCOS that he and his colleague have filed a complaint on the incident with the state Attorney General's office, claiming personal and property damages against García, Ahesa González, and staff of the SEDUOP, including its director, Javier García Ramírez.

Núñez Calderón also affirmed that practicing critical journalism in Puebla has become more difficult ever since the scandal involving the governor broke, and especially since the Supreme Court ruled in the governor's favour. Following this attack, the reporter says he fears for his own safety and for that of his family: "I am afraid to publish anything," he said.

CENCOS condemns the attack and calls upon the authorities to conduct an impartial investigation to ensure the culprits are punished appropriately.

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