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CAPSULE REPORT:"Parallel powers" behind one third of attacks on free expression in 2007, says CEPET

(CEPET/IFEX) - The following is an abridged version of a 10 March 2008 CEPET press release:

"Parallel powers" behind one third of attacks on free expression in 2007, says CEPET

According to a CEPET investigative report, three out of every 10 attacks on freedom of expression in 2007 can be traced to organised crime. CEPET's investigation was partly financed by IFEX's Outreach Programme and forms part of a Latin America-wide initiative aimed at uncovering information about "parallel powers" in the region. More than ten members of the IFEX network are participating in the study, whose findings will be key to strengthening strategies for the defense and protection of media outlets and journalists.

CEPET's investigation, the first of its kind in Mexico, was based on data published in the media and on primary research.

During a press conference, CEPET announced that there were 72 attacks on media outlets and journalists in 2007. In only 52 of these cases, however, could a direct link to the victims' profession be established.

Attacks by "parallel powers" in 2007

- There is information to suggest that organised crime was behind 15 of the 52 aforementioned attacks on freedom of expression. In other words, 29 per cent or three out of every 10 attacks in 2007 are linked to organised crime.

- In 12 of these 15 cases, it is believed that the assailants were linked to drug trafficking; two of the cases are attributed to people involved in child prostitution and the final case was carried out by a suspected member of the mafia.

- Organised crime is likely behind the murder of two journalists: Amado Ramírez Dillanes, a former correspondent for Televisa in Acapulco, and Saúl Noé Martínez Ortega, of the "Interdiario" newspaper, assassinated in Aguaprieta, Sonora. A third journalist, Gerardo García Pimentel, was killed in a style normally attributed to drug traffickers but the murder cannot be linked to his profession with any certainty. He rarely reported on police and crime news and he had not received any threats.

- Sonora was the most dangerous department for journalists in 2007, with four attacks linked to organised crime taking place in the region. One journalist was killed and the "Cambio" newspaper was forced to shut down. Tabasco and Guerrero are next on the list of most dangerous departments (with two attacks each), followed by Michoacán, Nuevo León, Oaxaca, Mexico City, Tamaulipas, Veracruz and Yucatán (with one attack in each department).

- Interestingly enough, there were no attacks on journalists linked to organised crime in Tamaulipas and Baja California, even though these two departments are perceived as high-risk areas. This could be due to the self-censorship practiced by local media outlets.

- One piece of information that may be key in the future is that in 12 of the 15 cases, or 80 per cent, the journalist under attack received threats prior to the incident.

- In 30 per cent of the attacks (20 cases), the victims were journalists. This is not surprising since they are the ones on the front lines, reporting from the scene of the crime. However, this suggests that members of organised crime believe that journalists have greater decision-making power over the content of the news than they actually have. In reality, journalists are subject to editorial decisions that they have little influence over.

- Print media are the main targets of the attacks, perhaps because the assailants' schedules allow them to follow the print media more closely than television and radio news programmes. Eleven of the cases that were reported involved attacks on newspapers or magazines and only one was directed at a television station. In two of the cases, the journalist who was targeted worked for more than one media outlet.

- The majority of the victims, 14 in all or 80 per cent, were male.

Since this is the first time that the role of "parallel powers" was examined, CEPET came up with the following definition for this term after consultation with specialists: "groups of individuals who may exist legally or illegally, and who influence decision making by exerting pressure on the authorities, more often than not resorting to violent methods".

The specialists noted that thus far organised crime elements operated at the local level in Mexico. They consist of groups such as the guerrilla in Chiapas - who have control over certain areas - and religious groups like the ones operating in Michoacán - who have their own communities and live under their own rules.

The most violent force, however, is organised crime, essentially defined by the fact that: 1) the attack was committed in reprisal for information that was published or to prevent the publication of such information; 2) the targeted person had received threats; and 3) the attack was carried out by a group of individuals who were acting in a coordinated fashion.

For the complete report (in Spanish only), see: http://www.cepet.org/pp.htm

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