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Journalist José Luis Ortega Vidal seriously injured in accident after being chased by armed former municipal official

(ARTICLE 19/CENCOS/IFEX) - The following is an abbreviated translation of a 5 March 2009 ARTICLE 19 and CENCOS press release:

On 3 March 2009, at about 4:00 a.m., journalist José Luis Ortega Vidal was seriously injured when he fell down a five meter deep hole at a construction site in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz state, southeastern Mexico. The accident took place when Ortega Vidal, who is the editing director for the daily Notisur, was trying to escape from former municipal councillor Alejandro Wong Ramos, who was pursuing the journalist with a pistol in his hand.

The incident began after several journalists, including Ortega Vidal, gathered at the "El Rincón" bar. Wong Ramos approached the table where the journalists were seated and began to reprimand them for information that had been published about him. A fist fight ensued and, after several people had been shoved and hit, Wong Ramos asked his bodyguard, Javier Hernández, to hand him his pistol. With pistol in hand, Wong Ramos proceeded to chase Ortega Vidal and another journalist, Jorge Tolentino. In order to escape from Wong Ramos, Ortega Vidal jumped over a protective wall at a construction site and fell more than five meters into a hole on the other side. The journalist suffered serious head injuries as a result of the fall. Several hours after the accident, the journalist was transferred to a private clinic and later taken by air ambulance to a hospital in the city of Xalapa.

In an interview with CENCOS, Notisur's Fernanda Gómez noted that the doctors caring for Ortega Vidal said he was in critical condition, that there was not much they could do and that he may not survive. Fernanda Gómez also said that complaints about the former councillor's actions had been filed with the Public Ministry (Ministerio Público del Fuero Común) and the Prosecutor's Office, headed by Félix Jácome Gómez, but that no one had been detained. "The police have not shown any intention to detain Wong Ramos and, at this time, no summons has been issued against him. In addition, a visual inspection of the area where the incident took place has only been completed by journalists because the authorities say they have been unable to contact the owner. Journalists, however, have been able to contact the owner and he has given them some information. (The failure to act in this case) is a clear indication of the impunity with which the authorities operate. We do not want this incident to be left as is because we all hold Ortega Vidal in high esteem and his family is suffering deeply," Fernando Gómez said.

According to legal procedure, and taking into account the fact that there were witnesses to the incident, Wong Ramos should have been summoned by the authorities. According to several local media outlets, this is not the first time Wong Ramos has acted aggressively towards a journalist when information being reported by the media has affected him.

ARTICLE 19 and CENCOS call on the Veracruz state authorities to, in accordance with international human rights principles, immediately investigate this incident. The organisations also remind the authorities that it is their responsibility to ensure that such incidents do not go unpunished and that journalists can safely carry out their work.

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