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Journalists face legal action, harassment for investigations into corruption

(CEPET/IFEX) - The following is an abridged translation of a 1 December 2008 CEPET statement:

A judge has ordered an investigation into the financial holdings of journalists Miguel Badillo Cruz and Ana Lilia Pérez Mendoza and the magazines "Contralínea" and "Fortuna" to determine how much to fine them for allegedly damaging the reputation of the naval company Oceanografía. Badillo Cruz is the editor of "Contralínea" and Pérez Mendoza is a reporter at "Fortuna". The judge has also demanded that an investigative report be produced to determine if the magazines have actually damaged Oceanografía's reputation.

In 2007, Badillo Cruz and Pérez Mendoza documented irregularities in how the state oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) awarded contracts to Oceanografía to rent out boats in Sonda de Campeche, southern Mexico. The journalists named a number of government officials in their investigation, including the current president of Mexico, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, when he was the head of PEMEX.

According to the journalists' investigation, Oceanografía was managed by the children and brother of Martha Sahagún Jiménez, the former first lady of Mexico, and PEMEX awarded the contracts to Oceanografía under pressure from the president. The information was made public in "Contralínea", "Fortuna" and in a column titled "Oficio de Papel" that Badillo Cruz publishes in the newspaper "Excelsior".

After the investigation was published, a legislative commission was set up to investigate the case. In November 2007, Oceanografía shareholdes sued Badillo Cruz for damages. Furthermore, on 20 August 2008, Oceanografía filed defamation complaints against Badillo Cruz, Pérez Mendoza, Nancy Flores, and "Contralínea" columnist Jorge Meléndez.

Pérez Mendoza says that she has received death threats as a result of the information that they published. Both she and Badillo Cruz also say that they have been harassed by the gas consortium Grupo Zeta. In November 2006, Pérez Mendoza published information linking Grupo Zeta to alleged influence peddling to obtain business contracts. In April 2007, Grupo Zeta president Jesús Alonso Zaragoza López admitted that he and his family had been investigated by the Drug Enforcement Agency of the United States. Pérez Mendoza also confirms that she has a taped copy of the interview in which Zaragoza López also revealed that Calderón and the former Interior Minister (Secretario de Gobernación) Juan Camilo Mouriño favoured his company when they were PEMEX officials. However, in August 2007, Zaragoza López sued the two journalists for alleged damages.

The journalists say that for nearly a year, Zaragoza López's lawyers have verbally harassed them when they attended legal proceedings. "The verbal aggression began with phrases such as 'We have instructions from Jesús Zaragoza to make you disappear. We are going to make you disappear. You don't know you you're dealing with!'"

The journalists have since launched a complaint with the National Commission for Human Rights (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos) and the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Journalists at the Attorney General's Office (Fiscalía Especializada de Atención a Delitos contra Periodistas de la Procuraduría General de la República).

CEPET condemns the judicial harassment of Badillo Cruz and Pérez Mendoza and maintains that attacks against journalists and the media are attacks against society in general in that they threaten the public's right to information.

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