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Tierra y Libertad is a community radio station in Monterrey in the northeast of Mexico with a broadcasting radius of four kilometres - just far enough to hit some of the poorest neighbourhoods in Monterrey's west end. It's been on the air for seven years, giving the locals news and analysis on education, health, culture, human rights and labour issues. So it came as some surprise when a large armed police contingent surrounded the station and forced its closure one Friday this month, in what ARTICLE 19 - Mexico and the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) say is an alarming case of the "criminalisation of free expression."

More than 100 heavily-armed members of the federal police violently burst into the station on 6 June. Over 200 people tried to defend the station, say AMARC, ARTICLE 19 and the National Center for Social Communication (CENCOS), but were unable to prevent the police from seizing the station's equipment.

The problem, says the police, is the station has allegedly been operating illegally - without a licence. But AMARC and ARTICLE 19 report that Tierra y Libertad had actually applied for a permit from the communications ministry way back in November 2002. And to date, they have not received a response.

Instead, the police shuttered the station using the General Law on National Assets rather than applying the Federal Radio and Television Law - which "amounts to criminalising the use of technology to exercise one's right to free expression," says AMARC and ARTICLE 19.

The federal government denied the station the opportunity to operate within the legal framework, say the IFEX members, and it's not the first time that the authorities have closed a radio station without respecting the right to due process.

ARTICLE 19, AMARC and CENCOS point out the real problems: that the authorities have "excessive discretion" in handling licence applications - which was, incidentally, ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court - and that the federal government refuses to recognise community radio broadcasting, even though it promised the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that it would create the conditions for community broadcasters to survive and thrive.

The members are demanding that the Mexican state respect freedom of expression and the right to access information, and that it not misinform the public with "biased and concocted information," as it has in the case of Tierra y Libertad radio station.

AMARC has penned 14 principles for democratic legislation on community broadcasting, which came out of an investigation on best practices in 26 countries. Read it here:

Also visit these links:
(17 June 2008)

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