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Youths harass, assault journalist Verónica Villalvazo

(ARTICLE 19/CENCOS/IFEX) - The following is an abbreviated translation of a 16 February 2009 ARTICLE 19 and CENCOS press release:

On 29 January 2009, a group of five or six youths harassed and assaulted independent journalist Verónica Villalvazo, who works under the pseudonym of "Frida Guerrera". At the time of the incident, Villalvazo was walking near the intersection of Allende and Crespo streets in Oaxaca city, in the state of Oaxaca. The assault appears to be linked to the journalist's investigations into a child sexual abuse case at the San Felipe Institute in Oaxaca.

In an interview with ARTICLE 19 and CENCOS, Villalvazo said that the youths approached her and said, "It's Frida, it's her," several times over. They surrounded her and one of them grabbed the shoulder bag in which she carries her laptop. The journalist fell to the ground and the other youths tried to grab her camera. One of the youths then said, "That's enough, we've scared her enough, we'll continue later," at which point they all immediately left the area. Four days earlier, Villalvazo said she had been followed by two unidentified individuals while she was carrying out her work, which would indicate that she is being watched.

Villalvazo has been subjected to harassment and acts of aggression since 2007, after she documented the case of Leticia Valdés Martel, who filed a complaint against a teacher at the San Felipe Institute for sexual abuse of her four year old son. The matter has come to the fore again due to national media attention resulting from allegations that several Oaxaca politicians interfered in the case. An interview with the journalist in which she publicised this information was used as evidence at a 6 February hearing in the case. A video of the interview can be viewed at: http://video.google.es/videoplay?docid=-4788686809046149025 .

In addition to the sex abuse case, Villalvazo has also covered stories on her blog ( http://fridaguerrera.blogspot.com ) about the harassment of the "Noticias, voz e imagen de Oaxaca" newspaper, the actions of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca, APPO) and the disappearance of two indigenous women, Daniela and Virginia Ortiz Ramírez. It is important to note that the state of Oaxaca illustrates the precarious situation of freedom of expression in Mexico at present. Since 2007, there have been at least 40 acts of aggression against journalists and media outlets in Oaxaca, nine of which took place in January and February 2009.

ARTICLE 19 and CENCOS call on the authorities to promote and ensure respect for freedom of expression.

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