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Police burst into newspaper office, harass journalists

(CEPET/IFEX) - Armed police burst into the office of the newspaper "El Mexicano" in the city of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, in northern Mexico. They were looking for columnist and contributor Mario Héctor Silva to demand that he reveal his sources.

Newspaper director Rafael Navarro Barrón informed CEPET that Gerardo Hernández Ibarra, the representative of the Chihuahua urban and ecological development office, ordered the operation because Silva had named him in a tax evasion scheme.

In his column "Politikon" on 29 October 2008, Silva wrote that a shopkeeper had in his possession a document signed by Hernández Ibarra that referred to a payment of 800,000 pesos (approx. US$62,200) for the acquisition of a piece of land that is currently the site of a market.

Hernández Ibarra denied the businessman's accusation and announced that he was going to sue him for defamation.

On 4 November, at 9:00 a.m. (local time), agents from the Attorney General's Office of Chihuahua (Procuraduría General de Justicia de Chihuahua) burst into the offices of "El Mexicano" without a warrant and said they were from the Department of Crimes against the Peace, Personal Security and Public Faith (Departamento de Delitos Contra la Paz, la Seguridad de la Personas y la Fe Pública).

A police officer who identified herself as Agent Pérez asked for Silva, and when she was told that Silva was not in the office, asked to speak to the director or chief of information.

Later, chief of information Luis Carlos Carrasco, accompanied by a photographer, met with the police. The agents asked the journalists to identify themselves, but when the journalists demanded the same of the police, the police refused to do so and insulted the journalists.

The police officer identified as Agent Pérez said they "were the authority and the reporters were obligated to give them the information that the investigation required."

The reporters responded that they "were familiar with the law and they had no reason to reveal information, even less so if the officers demanded it in an overbearing way. If the officers wanted to see the columnist, they should look for him at his home since he expressed personal opinions in his articles."

"You make your decision, we already have your names," threatened Agent Pérez. Carrasco then asked the photographer to take pictures of the officers in order to report them. The officers covered their faces and began to swipe at the photographer, telling him that the journalists would be sorry.

At that point, the officers took the camera away from the photographer and threw it towards the trash can, and then left in two official vehicles - a blue minivan and a recent model Dodge Ram.

When confronted with the journalists' official report of the event, a state clerk and a representative of the state governor, who is a member of the PRI party, offered their apologies and said that the officers involved in the incident would be investigated and punished.

Barrón said that this act made amends for the abuse that the journalists suffered by the police.

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