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Journalist who attempted to cover confrontation between drug traffickers detained, faces judicial proceedings

(CEPET/IFEX) - Roberto Tepepexteco Hipólito, a reporter for the "El Debate de los Calentanos" newspaper, has been imprisoned for two months after having been detained by military personnel when he was on his way to cover a confrontation between opposing gangs of suspected drug traffickers in Arcelia, Guerrero, southern Mexico.

According to national and Guerrero-based media outlets, on 6 September 2008 a group of approximately 30 men from Mexico State arrived in Guerrero and entered into an armed battle with a rival group that lasted for several hours. Both groups used high power weapons in the fight. Several hours after the battle, Mexican army personnel and federal police officers arrived and attempted to detain those involved.

The editor of "El Debate de los Calentanos", Juan Cuevas Román, told CEPET that when he found out about the confrontation between the rival gangs of drug traffickers he called Tepepexteco Hipólito, the newspaper's correspondent in Arcelia, to ask him to cover it. Cuevas Román said that when the journalist was on his way to cover the battle he was stopped by several men in Federal Investigations Agency (Agencia Federal de Investigaciones, AFI) uniforms at what he presumed to be an AFI checkpoint. In reality, the individuals at the roadblock were thugs who were fleeing from the confrontation. The thugs took the journalist with them, but after traveling for several kilometres their vehicle broke down and they were forced to abandon both the vehicle and journalist on the road. Soon afterwards, Tepepexteco Hipólito requested assistance from a military convoy that was passing by. The military personnel allowed the journalist to travel with them and they later detained two individuals carrying firearms and grenades.

Cuevas Román said that he was kept informed of what was happening via mobile phone contact. He requested assistance for the journalist and went looking for Tepepexteco Hipólito along with a group of police officers. "When I arrived at the place where they had Tepepexteco Hipólito, they told me that they were taking him in as a witness. They took him to the Federal Attorney General's Office (Procuraduría General de la República) in Chilpancingo (the state capital)," Cuevas Román said.

The authorities came to the conclusion that the journalist's testimony lacked credibility and decided to begin judicial proceedings against him along with the other two individuals that had been detained. On 9 September, the PGR released a statement on the case, saying, "As a result of the work carried out by a Federal Public Ministry officer, and after having gathered the necessary information to support the case, it was decided to begin criminal proceedings against Julio César Vergara Salinas, Roberto Villa Albarrán and Roberto Tepepexteco Hipólito for suspected involvement in organised crime, amassing of weapons, violation of the Federal Law on Firearms and Explosives, possession of firearms that are for the exclusive use of the armed forces and possession of cartridges."

According to the case file, when Vergara Salinas, Villa Albarrán and Tepepexteco Hipólito were detained, they had in their possession three small firearms, four rifles of various calibers, 21 explosives charges, 1,325 bullet cartridges of various calibers, a hand grenade, tactical clothing, five cellular phones, a digital camera and a communications radio.

According to Cuevas Román, Tepepexteco Hipólito has worked for "El Debate de los Calentanos" for 15 years and he also worked as a secretary for the Arcelia municipal government. "We have known him for many years and are sure that he is not involved in organised crime. He is not a corrupt journalist," Cuevas Román said. According to information published by the Proceso news agency, Arcelia's mayor, Nicanor Adame Serrano, held a press conference two days after the journalist was detained to express his support for Tepepexteco Hipólito and call for his release.

Cuevas Román hired two lawyers to defend Tepepexteco Hipólito and has said, "This is an injustice. They are holding my reporter incommunicado. It's degrading. We are asking for support because Tepepexteco Hipólito is innocent. He does not speak Spanish well because he is from a community where a local dialect predominates and this has led to the confusion with his testimony."

This is not the first time a reporter has been detained on false charges. On 8 November, photojournalist Israel García Gurrola, who works for the "La Voz de la Frontera" newspaper, was assaulted and illegally detained by federal agents who did not want him to take photographs of a police operation in Mexicali, Baja California, northwestern Mexico.

CEPET calls on the federal authorities to carry out the investigations into Tepepexteco Hipólito's conduct in a professional and serious manner. The organisation also urges the PGR to take into account the testimony of Cuevas Román.

CEPET considers attacks on journalists and media outlets to be equivalent to an attack on society as a whole since it jeopardises the right of citizens to be informed.

For further information on the Garcia Gurrola case, see:
http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/98401

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