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Police officers raid weekly's offices, issue death threats against journalists, assault and detain reporters Juan Ojeda and Jesús Damas Ruíz

(ARTICLE 19/CENCOS/IFEX) - The following is a 5 February 2009 ARTICLE 19 and CENCOS alert:

On two occasions, police officers in Tijuana, Baja California, northwestern Mexico, have raided the offices of the local weekly "Balún Canán" without a search warrant and have threatened and assaulted reporters.

In an interview, Juan Alfonso Ojeda, the editor and founder of "Balún Canán", told CENCOS and ARTICLE 19 that, on 4 February 2009, state police officers physically harassed Isabel Mercado, the weekly's assistant editor, and issued death threats against several journalists. This was the second time in less than a week that the police acted aggressively towards the weekly or its staff.

Previously, at 8:00 p.m. (local time) on 31 January, journalists Juan Ojeda and Jesús Damas Ruíz were preparing to close the weekly's offices when they saw that there was some type of police activity taking place nearby and decided to film it. When they started to film, the police officers, who belonged to the municipal police department, told them that they were not authorised to do so and forcibly stopped them. With their faces covered, the police officers then proceeded to raid the weekly's offices and assaulted whoever got in their way. Ojeda said that when they failed to find anything to accuse them of, they forcibly took him and Damas Ruíz out of the building and made them get into a patrol car, then they handcuffed and threatened them with their guns.

The police took Ojeda's and Damas Ruíz's mobile phones, their video and photographic cameras and 12,000 pesos (approx US$850) in cash that was to have paid for the next issue of the weekly. The footage of the incident can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgLtmII8JOM

Ojeda and Damas Ruíz were brought before a municipal court judge and accused of drinking alcoholic beverages in public. The judge only heard the police officers' version of events and never allowed the journalists to comment on what had taken place from their point of view. The judge sentenced them to 30 hours in detention and a fine of 500 pesos (approx. US$35). As a result of the incident, Damas Ruíz sustained injuries to his neck and vertebrae. The police returned the journalists' electronic equipment but not the money they had taken.

Both journalists filed a complaint against the police for abuse of authority and the raid on the media outlets' facilities.

ARTICLE 19 and CENCOS call in the authorities in Tijuana to, in accordance with international human rights commitments assumed by the Mexican state, promote freedom of expression rights and ensure that these rights are respected. The two organisations also call on the authorities to punish the police officers responsible for the actions against the journalists and the weekly, to provide compensation for damages and to adopt measures to prevent the reoccurrence of these types of abusive actions.

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