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Sympathisers of mayoralty candidate mistreat journalists in Cancún

(CEPET/IFEX) - Sympathizers and bodyguards of Gregorio Sánchez Martínez, who is running for mayor of Benito Juárez, a municipality in Quintana Roo state in southern Mexico, mistreated reporters, assaulting and seizing the camera belonging to one of them, in Cancún, the state's largest city. Sánchez Martínez is running on behalf of a coalition of parties including the Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido de la Revolución Democrática, PRD), the Workers' Party (Partido del Trabajo, PT) and the "Convergencia" party.

The incident occurred on 27 January 2008, when a group led by Juan Ignacio García Zalvidea, a.k.a. "El Chacho", in support of the candidate of the rival Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) took up positions on the sidewalk across from the scene of a PRD coalition campaign event and began distributing leaflets and shouting slogans against the coalition candidate. The pro-PRI group is known locally as the "Countercampaign".

García Zalvidea, leader of the "Countercampaign", was once the mayor of the same municipality and also a member of the PRD. However, during his tenure he faced accusations of embezzlement. Although he later occupied an influential position in the PRD, when Sánchez Martínez was chosen to be the PRD candidate for mayor, García Zalvidea switched sides, openly supporting the PRI's candidate and later resigning from the PRD. It was public knowledge that García Zalvidea had wanted to run for state governor in the upcoming elections.

When the PRD candidates' bodyguards and supporters saw the rival group, some 10 of the PRD supporters went out to confront the PRI supporters. They beat two young people who were distributing leaflets for the PRI candidate and threatened them with a pistol, pushing one of them to the ground and hitting him on the forehead with the butt of the gun, according to Susana Mariscal, a correspondent for "Diario de Yucatán" newspaper. According to her, one of the PRI sympathisers who managed to get away told her that the PRD supporters asked them to turn over the leaflets. The PRI supporters gave them a few, but the PRD supporters insisted that they had to hand over all of them, and threatened them with a pistol.

When one of the reporters who attended a press conference given by the PRD-led coalition candidate questioned him about the assault the reporters had witnessed, the candidate's supporters became aggressive and shoved them out of the conference, even though they identified themselves as reporters. Mariscal was among those forced out.

Emilio Carrasco Hernández, a reporter with La Raza local radio station, remained inside and was beaten; his assailants also took his still camera, credit cards, cash and other belongings. He was treated at the local hospital, after which he filed a complaint at the office of the Attorney General of Quintana Roo state indicating that he had been the victim of assault causing bodily harm, illegal denial of liberty and theft.

PRD candidate Sánchez Martínez publicly denied that his security personal had assaulted any reporter, and said he had initiated legal proceedings for illegal entry and damages. He also said that the incident had been orchestrated by the PRI supporters as part of a boycott of his campaign.

CEPET urges the candidates of all parties to respect journalists' and media outlets' right to work and to respect the right to freedom of expression.

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