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Chihuahua journalist alerted to murder plot, subjected to weeks of military harassment following critical reporting, seeks asylum in US

(ARTICLE 19/CENCOS/IFEX) - Journalist Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, whose residence was searched by military personnel in May 2008 and who has subsequently been harassed by members of the Army, has sought asylum in the United States, fearing for his life and that of his son.

The correspondent for the regional newspaper "El Diario del Noroeste" in Ascensión, a municipality in the northwestern state of Chihuahua, Gutiérrez Soto applied for asylum in the United States on the grounds that he has been harassed by members of the military engaged in the Chihuahua Joint Operation, a series of anti-narcotics operations currently being undertaken. According to press reports, the journalist discontinued his work at the newspaper due to the military threats and for fear that he or his family would be the targets of physical assault.

The incidents began on 5 May 2008 when members of the military, wearing balaclavas, broke down the door of the journalist's home. The soldiers pointed their rifles at Gutiérrez Soto and his son, and presented a search warrant from an official identified as General Guzmán Loera, arguing that they were conducting an "operation searching for weapons or drugs."

After the search, the journalist told family members and other journalist that "military personnel dressed in civilian clothing have been surrounding me for several days, saying that they were planning to kill me."

According to Gutiérrez Soto's statements to various media, "the military were trying to kill me for articles in which I exposed irregularities they had committed during operations in Chihuahua, including the raid on my home; that's why I decided to move to the United States."

The journalist said that on 14 June, when he was covering a story in Ascensión for "El Diario del Noroeste" he noticed that he was being watched by individuals with a military mien, in different vehicles. After that, a person close to him approached him furtively, warning him to flee because "they're planning to kill you."

In February of 2005, Gutiérrez Soto was surrounded by eight soldiers, including an officer by the last name of Martínez Piedra. They insulted and threatened him, including with murder, if he were to publish anything about the incident, which occurred on a public street.

ARTICLE 19 and CENCOS reiterate their call on the Mexican state to adopt the measures necessary to ensure that security forces protect and respect the right to freedom of expression and press freedom, in accordance with international agreements. The two organisations also ask the authorities to punish those responsible for such acts of aggression, in order to avoid setting a precedent that will lead to the continuation of these kinds of attacks on journalists.

Respect for human rights and public safety are not contradictory goals. The state has an obligation to protect public safety without ceasing to respect human rights.

Responding to threats to public safety by restricting free expression may, in the end, favour organised crime by leading to the dismantling of the state of law, and to the erosion of the norms concerning the freedoms that democratic systems enjoy.

For further information on previous military threats against Gutiérrez Soto, see:

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