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"Proceso" journalist summoned by Veracruz State Prosecutor, questioned about sources

(CEPET/IFEX) - The Veracruz State Prosecutor's Office has violated a recommendation of the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH) by summoning Rodrigo Vera, a reporter for "Proceso" magazine. The reporter was questioned about a photograph depicting the autopsy of Ernestina Ascencio, an elderly woman who was allegedly assassinated and raped in a Veracruz indigenous community in February 2007.

Vera and Regina Martínez, a "Proceso" correspondent in Veracruz, covered the case for the magazine. Vera told CEPET that in mid December a notice was sent to the magazine's office in Mexico City, summoning him to appear before the city's Public Prosecutor's Office on 8 January 2008.

During the meeting, he was informed that the Veracruz State Prosecutor had accused him of publishing the photograph of Ascencio's corpse, despite a prohibition on the publication of such photographs. Vera was also asked to provide the names of the individuals who were present at the autopsy and who gave him the photograph. The reporter stated that he did not have this information and that he began working on the case three days after the autopsy.

Martínez told "La Jornada" newspaper that she has not been summoned, even though she took part in the investigation.

On 21 January, the CNDH told CEPET that the conduct of the "Proceso" reporters was not under investigation. "We do not know how the Veracruz State Prosecutor is handling the case but the CNDH has not called for an investigation. Instead, we called for an investigation of the government officials who allegedly leaked the autopsy photographs," said Luis Raúl González Pérez, director general of the Attacks on Journalists Programme.

In summoning the "Proceso" journalist, the Veracruz State Prosecutor has gone against the CNDH's wishes. CNDH's August 2004 recommendation was directed at the Attorney General, the Military Justice Prosecutor, state governors and the Mexico City mayor, and aimed at ensuring that the reporters would not be forced to reveal their sources. It was issued after journalists in other parts of the country faced similar pressures.

According to CEPET, the Veracruz State Prosecutor has also violated the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the Organization of American States, to which Mexico is a signatory. Principle eight states that "every social communicator has the right to keep his/her source of information, notes, personal and professional archives confidential.

Ascencio's death sparked a lot of controversy because of the alleged involvement of army personnel. Although a number of state and national media outlets published the photo of her corpse, thus far Vera is the only journalist to have been summoned for questioning. He has the right to file a complaint with the CNDH.

CEPET urges the Veracruz State Prosecutor to refrain from summoning journalists and media outlets who reported on the case or published photographs of Ascencio. Such intimidation could lead to self-censorship in the future and have a negative impact on the people's right to be informed.

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