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Journalists summoned after reporting on extortion case involving police officers

(CEPET/IFEX) - Ramón Chaparro Domínguez and Julio César Aguilar Fuentes, journalist and photographer respectively for "El Diario" newspaper, along with journalist Carlos Ramírez, of the "El Mexicano" newspaper, were recently summoned to appear in court. The incident occurred on 26 August 2009 in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, northern Mexico.

According to Rocío Gallegos, press chief for "El Diario", on 11 July the two newspapers published an article on seven federal police officers who were arrested on accusations of extortion. A young person's relatives said the officers had planted drugs on him and then demanded money in exchange for not prosecuting him. The papers' articles were based on information provided by sources at the Solicitor General's Office (Procuraduría General de la República) and Javier González Mocken, who is in charge of the department handling complaints against the Chihuahua Police Department.

About one month after the articles were published, on 12 August, a citation was sent to both newspapers, instructing the reporters to appear in court on 26 August, at 11:30 a.m. (local time). The letter did not indicate the reason for the order but warned that the journalists would face a fine if they did not appear.

The two journalists and the photographer went to the court at the appointed time. One by one they came face to face with Salvador Guzmán Ávalos, one of the seven accused officers. Realising this was not proper procedure, the reporters expressed their concern to the Prosecutor's Office official. They were prevented from leaving the court, however, because the court procedure was already underway.

The three then contacted "El Diario", who in turn sent their lawyer to the court. The lawyer was informed that Guzmán Ávalos was there as a witness for the defense and that the reporters were required to provide a statement or else they would face other types of legal actions.

Faced with this pressure, the three reporters agreed to comply with the process. According to Chaparro Domínguez, he was questioned about the article he had written and the photographs that were published along with it. Officer Guzmán Ávalos tried to ask the journalist about his sources of information but was told that journalists have the right to protect their sources.

Chaparro Domínguez expressed concern over this intimidating measure and its potential impact on his and his colleagues' safety.

Rafael Navarro Barrón, director of "El Mexicano", also condemned the action. "They asked (the reporters) for a lot of personal information in front of the accused police officer. This is not proper procedure," he noted.

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