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Journalist threatened with murder after critical reporting on municipal programme official in Chiapas

(ARTICLE 19/CENCOS/IFEX) - Rafael Velasco Salas, deputy director of the bimonthly publication "Zona Norte" and correspondent in Chiapas for the Oaxaca-based newspaper "Noticias, Voz e Imagen", was assaulted and threatened with murder by Humberto Cernuda Hernández, brother of Josefa Cernuda - the president of the Family Services Unit (Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, DIF) of the city of Pichucalco in the state of Chiapas, southeastern Mexico, on 22 June 2008.

The incident occurred at approximately 5:00 p.m. (local time), when the journalist, his wife and son were stopped while they were travelling in their car by Humberto Cernuda Hernández, who appeared to be inebriated at the time. Cernuda Hernández got out of a white pick-up truck without licence plates, and violently tried to force the journalist to get out of his car, demanding that he stop discussing Cernuda Hernández's sister. Before getting back into his truck and leaving, Cernuda Hernández warned the journalist that he would not hesitate to kill him.

According to the journalist and Ciro Castillo - deputy director of "Noticias, Voz e Imagen" - the threats were likely in response to articles published in the newspaper implicating Josefa Cernuda Hernández, who is also the wife of the president of the Pichucalco municipal government, Santiago Herrera Tilch, in mismanagement of the DIF, the removal of support materials from the institution, and a physical assault on a female Pichucalco municipal employee.

Various media outlets have reported on Humberto Cernuda Hernández's alleged crimes, including the attempted murder of reporter Víctor Pacheco Rosado, which is still unpunished.

Velasco Salas said he will be filing formal complaints about the 22 June incident with the Attorney General's Office (Procuraduría General de la República) and the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Journalists (Fiscalía Especializada para la Atención de Delitos de Periodistas).

ARTICLE 19 and CENCOS respectfully call upon the state of Chiapas and the authorities in the city of Pichucalco to take the measures needed to guarantee Velasco's safety and that of his family. The two organisations also express their support for Chiapas journalists and their concern for the safety of journalists in Pichucalco, and will be carefully following the investigation into this case, and the authorities' response to the request that they ensure Velasco can safely exercise his right to freedom of expression. They also reiterated their call to the Mexican state to implement an effective policy of prevention, investigation and punishment of violations of free expression, in accordance with their international human rights obligations.

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