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Community broadcasters criminally charged

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 6 July 2009 - Despite having made repeated commitments to respect freedom of expression, the government of President Felipe Calderón is clamping down on community broadcasters. Recent criminal charges against Héctor Camero and Rosa Cruz, community broadcasters at Radio Tierra y Libertad and Radio Uekakua, point to a worrying trend that is undermining the ability of vulnerable groups to access information and to voice their concerns. ARTICLE 19 calls on the Mexican government to put community broadcasting on a proper legal footing.

On 30 June 2009, Héctor Camero, Director of Radio Tierra y Libertad, a community radio station based in a poor neighbourhood in the northern city of Monterrey, was charged with the use and exploitation of a public resource (the airwaves) without a permit, which is punishable by up to twelve years' imprisonment. Camero avoided being detained only because his lawyers launched a successful action for habeas corpus. Radio Tierra y Libertad has been providing public interest information to low income communities in Monterrey for seven years. The criminal prosecution was initiated by a formal request on behalf of the Ministry of the Interior.

On 29 January 2009, Radio Uekakua, based in the western state of Michoacán and the only radio station broadcasting in the Purepecha language, was shut down by security forces. The operation involved some 100 agents from the federal police force who occupied the municipality, leading to accusations of use of excessive force and of issuing threats against locals who were protesting the closure.

On 13 June, Rosa Cruz, a member of the Purepechas indigenous community and a broadcaster at Radio Uekakua, was charged under the same legal provision used against Camero. The reasons for prosecuting Cruz are unclear and she is particularly vulnerable due to her lack of financial resources and the fact that Spanish is not her mother tongue.

Both radio stations play a pivotal role in their communities. Both also applied for a community broadcasting licence in 2002. However, neither has yet received a licence, in part because Mexico still lacks a legal framework for community broadcasting. The current legislation privileges commercial over community broadcasters, with the result that only 13 of 1,200 radio licences in Mexico have been allocated to community radios. Even these thirteen received their permits under discretionary terms, due to the lack of recognition of such media outlets.

"Community broadcasting is an essential developmental tool for vulnerable populations around the world, including in Mexico. The absence of a proper regulatory framework to enable community broadcasting constitutes a violation of international law regarding freedom of expression. It is also discriminatory inasmuch as it impacts disproportionally on poor, non-Spanish speaking and/or indigenous populations," notes Dr Agnès Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Mexican authorities to:
- Commence consultations immediately with a view to putting in place a legal and policy framework to foster, rather than obstruct, community broadcasting.
- Allow established community broadcasters to continue to operate informally until such time as they have had a chance to apply for a licence under the new rules.
- As part of the above, and in recognition of the State's failure to fulfil its obligations regarding community broadcasting, drop the charges against Héctor Camero and Rosa Cruz and other community broadcasters that have been threatened with criminal prosecution.

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