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Journalists assaulted by police, one injured, while covering demonstration in Nuevo León

(ARTICLE 19/CENCOS/IFEX) - Local police assaulted journalists covering a demonstration by members of the community demanding greater safety in the San Antonio neighbourhood of the city of Benito Juárez, in Nuevo León state, northern Mexico. The assaults took place in the early hours of 18 June 2008.

For over four hours, local residents of the San Antonio neighbourhood, located in the east end of Benito Juárez, blocked the Monterrey-Reynosa state highway. At around 2:00 a.m. (local time), Juan Francisco González Muñoz got out of his vehicle, insulted some of the demonstrators, then assaulted several of the people present, including some journalists. The police present reacted similarly, also beating those present. Municipal police chief Alberto González Hernández, who was trying to convince the demonstrators to stop blocking the highway, was present during the assault.

The journalists assaulted by the police included: Sergio Cruz Fuentes and Juan César Martínez of Televisa Monterrey television station; Cadereyta-based journalist Régulo Garza, of the newspaper "La Última Palabra"; Cadereyta-based journalists Samuel Alejandro Osorio Ríos and Adolfo Antonio Castillo Chi, of Canal 7 pay television station; and Alejandro Martínez, of "El Norte" newspaper. All of these media outlets concentrate their coverage on Nuevo León state. It should be noted that Cruz Fuentes was hit in the face, back and legs, and Garza was injured.

In a telephone interview, "La Última Palabra" manager corroborated the information about the incidents, and indicated that the municipal authorities contacted the newspaper's editorial section after Garza was beaten to offer an apology, promising to cover the medical expenses and material costs Garza incurred as a result of the assault.

According to media reports that have not been confirmed by the authorities, state ministry police (Policía Ministerial) detained police officers Pedro Rojas and Ricardo Chávez Ruiz, and are also looking for Héctor Morales Villegas y Mario Ambrosio Niño Rivera. González Muñoz - the civilian who initiated the assaults - was also detained by the ministry police, but apparently will not be charged due to lack of evidence, despite the existence of videos in which he can be seen beating Cruz Fuentes (see the video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2swuPsQHVU ). Apparently, police chief González Hernández also made a statement to the Public Ministry (Ministerio Público); it is not known yet whether he will be charged.

ARTICLE 19 and CENCOS reiterate their call on the municipality of Benito Juárez to take the measures necessary to ensure that security forces protect journalists and respect their right to fully exercise freedom of expression and press freedom, in accordance with international human rights agreements. The two organisations also ask the authorities to punish those responsible, since failure to do so will establish a precedent that will lead to further attacks on journalists.

ARTICLE 19 and CENCOS believe that disciplinary or administrative penalties are an inadequate tool for dealing with these kinds of situation, given that assaults on journalists, being violations of freedom of expression, must be dealt with by courts in order that both the physical perpetrators and those behind their acts, if such masterminds exist, be punished in accordance with national laws and international human rights law, which also oblige the State to provide reparations to the victims and to establish measures preventing the repetition of such offences.

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