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Police detain photographer for eight hours, assault and threaten him

(ARTICLE 19/CENCOS/IFEX) - On 8 November 2008, Federal Preventive Police (Policía Federal Preventiva, PFP) officers detained photographer Israel García Gurrola, who works for the "La Voz de la Frontera" newspaper, in the city of Mexicali, Baja California, northern Mexico. García Gurrola was detained when he was taking photographs of various PFP vehicles as they travelled around Mexicali as part of the federal government's operations against organised crime. This is another in a long list of incidents in which journalists have been arbitrarily assaulted and detained by government security forces this year.

García Gurrola was detained at 12:20 p.m. (local time) after he photographed four PFP vehicles in the area of Mexicali's Benito Juárez Boulevard and Independencia Road. In a telephone interview, García Gurrola said he was detained for more than eight hours and was physically assaulted and threatened. His photographic equipment and car were damaged.

During his detention, García Gurrola was handcuffed and blindfolded. PFP agents presented the photojournalist to local authorities, but they refused to charge him because he had not committed a crime.

The Federal Public Ministry (Ministerio Público Federal) also refused to initiate proceedings against him for the same reason. Given the negative responses, and after noticing that Garciá Gurrola's car had equipment to monitor the police radio frequency - a common practice among journalists who cover the police beat - the PFP decided to accuse him of "interfering with federal lines of communication". The authorities, however, also rejected that accusation. Finally, García Gurrola was released without being charged.

"I took pictures of them and they didn't like it," said García Gurrola. "They treated me like a despicable criminal." He indicated that he will report the incident to the state's Human Rights Ombudsperson's Office (Procuraduría de los Derechos Humanos) and the federal Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Journalists (Fiscalía Especial para la Atención de Delitos contra Periodistas).

ARTICLE 19 and CENCOS condemn these actions against García Gurrola as they represent a personal attack against journalists and violate the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Any restriction of these fundamental rights must take place only within limits prescribed by law in order to prevent such actions from being discretional and discriminatory.

Safeguarding public and national security is the exclusive authority of the State and it must not be used as a pretext for breaching the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

ARTICLE 19 and CENCOS reiterate their call to the Mexican state to adopt the measures necessary to ensure that the national security forces guarantee and respect the right to freedom of expression, in accordance with international human rights standards.

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