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Photojournalist assaulted, receives death threat

(CEPET/IFEX) - Independent photojournalist Pablo Vélez Cisneros said that he fears for his life after being assaulted and receiving a death threat, from individuals suspected to be working undercover for the state government, while he was covering a demonstration in Mérida, in Yucatán state, southeastern Mexico, on 16 September 2009.

On the day in question, Vélez Cisneros went to Mérida's main plaza in order to cover an Independence Day military parade. After the parade ended, a group of people arrived at the site and began to protest against a rise in the cost of public transport.

During the demonstration, Vélez Cisneros noticed the presence of a number of men who were dressed in civilian clothing but acted like police officers, watching over the protesters.

"I was taking photographs when someone approached and tried to grab my camera. I identified myself, said I was a reporter and showed my press identification papers, but he didn't pay any attention. The protesters realised what was going on and when they came to help me, the man left," Vélez Cisneros said.

However, when the photographer had finished his work and began walking to the lot where his vehicle was parked, he noticed that the man who had tried to take his camera was following him, along with several others. "I went into a store and acted like I was talking on the telephone. Then I saw some riot police and asked for their assistance. The police officers went after the men and I began walking once again toward my vehicle, but then I noticed that other men were following me," he said. He hurriedly got into his vehicle, but then a green van with no licence plates tried to block him from leaving. Its passengers, who had official looking two-way radios, got out of the vehicle and asked Vélez Cisneros to get out of his. The photojournalist refused to do so.

"I noticed that one of them had his hand at his waist and I thought the worst. I steered my car towards him and he became very angry. They then began to hurl insults at me and told me they were going to kill me. One of them told the van's driver, 'Run into him, run into him.' They hit the back end of my vehicle and kicked it, but I refused to roll down my window," Vélez Cisneros said.

A municipal police officer who saw what was going on, called for reinforcements and, when they arrived, the officers managed to detain three of the journalist's assailants. There were about seven men involved in the actions against the photojournalist, but the rest managed to get away.

The individuals detained were Fernando Oliver Perera Chan, Juan Bautista Chale Martínez and Wilberth Jiménez Alcocer, who identified themselves as state police officers. The State Attorney General's Office, however, said they are not part of the police force.

Nevertheless, according to information published in the "Diario de Yucatán" newspaper, the photojournalist's assailants belong to a group called the C-4, which gathers information for the state government. According to the newspaper's information, the C-4 operates under the Public Security Secretariat and its objective is to infiltrate demonstrations and social protest groups in order to gather information about their leaders and action plans. The actions against Vélez Cisneros may have been an attempt to erase evidence of the actions of C-4 agents during the demonstration in Mérida.

Vélez Cisneros filed a complaint with the state Attorney General's Office for death threats, attempted robbery and damages. His assailants, however, were freed on bail the following day.

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