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Two journalists assaulted by military during operations in Oaxaca

(ARTICLE 19/CENCOS/IFEX) - At dawn on 21 June 2008, journalists Omar Gasga and Antonio García were assaulted when they followed a military and police convoy to cover the convoys' information-gathering operations in Santa María Huatulco, Oaxaca state, southeast Mexico.

Gasga, a correspondent for Quadratin information and analysis agency, which is based in Oaxaca, as well as being a programme host for La Voz del Pacífico Sur radio station and a freelance journalist, told CENCOS by telephone that the incident began when the two journalists, at that time in a hotel area, noticed the presence of the military and police convoy.

Given that the area to which the convoy was heading had only two residential units, the journalists decided to follow it, deducing that the convoy was about to conduct a search. When they reached the site, they saw military and police deployed all over the area. When the soldiers noticed the journalists, they asked them to get out of their vehicle, and searched it and the journalists, even though Gasga and García explained that they were reporters. During the search, one of the soldiers struck García on the leg.

After asking the journalists for their identification, the military asked them to leave the area. The journalists were therefore no longer able to cover the military operations.

When the journalists left the site in their car, a new convoy, arriving to support the other one, also stopped them and asked them to identify themselves, throwing the pair on the ground and again searching their car and the journalists themselves. During the searches, García was again assaulted by the soldiers. The journalists were held while the soldiers cleared out the area, then later released.

The journalists presented a formal complaint to the Commission to Defend Human Rights in Oaxaca (Comisión para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos en Oaxaca), which they hope will be turned over to the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos) and the Programme for Offences against Journalists and Human Rights Defenders (Programa de Agravios a Periodistas y Defensores Civiles de Derechos Humanos). Gasga is considering the possibility of filing a lawsuit over the incidents.

On 23 June, the journalists were informed that there had in fact been a series of searches which had resulted in various complaints being filed with the local offices of the Public Ministry (Ministerio Público).

Gasga noted that he has to be able to count on being safe in order to exercise his profession.

ARTICLE 19 and CENCOS call on the municipality of Santa María de Huatulco to take the measures needed to ensure that the security forces protect and respect press freedom and freedom of expression, in accordance with international human rights agreements and standards.

The two organisations strongly condemn these incidents, due to the chilling effect on free expression and press freedom they have. They note that the State's obligation to ensure public security cannot be used as a pretext to violate freedom of expression or press freedom.

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