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IAPA disappointed at Congress's indifference to crimes against journalists

(IAPA/IFEX) - Miami, October 22, 2009 - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today reacted with surprise at news that Mexico's newly-seated Chamber of Deputies has disbanded a special committee set up to deal with crimes against journalists and news media, one of 40 panels intended for the current legislative session.

IAPA President Enrique Santos Calderón, editor of the Bogotá, Colombia, newspaper El Tiempo, said he regrets that "this new Mexican legislature does not show the same political will as the previous one. Under the previous Deputies the Special Committee for Dealing with Attacks upon Journalists and News Media made progress on many fronts in favor of freedom of the press, in particular raising the profile on the public agenda of the issue of violence and how this affects the public's right to know."

The Special Committee, chaired by Congressman Gerardo Priego of the National Action Party, since it was established in 2006, had been recognized for its support of initiatives by the IAPA and other international organizations to "make crimes against journalists federal offenses" and "stiffen penalties by amending the Penal Code," actions regarded as essential to strengthen the work of the press in times of extreme violence.

The chairman of IAPA's Impunity Committee, Juan Francisco Ealy Ortiz, of the Mexico City newspaper El Universal, said it is "a huge concern that all the work carried out by this Committee up to now in Mexico is being thrown by the wayside," and, on behalf of the hemispheric organization, called on the legislature to "stop and think, put your political will behind this issue so important to Mexican democracy, pay this matter that so disrupts our country its due."

A total of eight journalists have been murdered in Mexico so far this year - Norberto Miranda Madrid, Juan Daniel Martínez Gil, Ernesto Montañez Valdivia, Martín Javier Miranda Avilés, Eliseo Barrón Hernández, Carlos Ortega Melo Samper, Luis Daniel Méndez Hernández and Jean Paul Ibarra Ramírez.

The most recent IAPA reports on the state of freedom of the press in Mexico have classified this country as one of the most dangerous in the Americas to work as a journalist, where the level of violence and lack of punishment have helped generate a growing self-censorship.

Mexican Congressional house rules empower the Congress to set up special committees as well as to disband them in the event they have "met their objectives."

In this regard, the IAPA officers stated that "given the violence and the lack of defenses faced by many journalists, it is essential that the work the Special Committee has been conducting continue, in order to follow up on attacks upon journalists and news media."

Meanwhile, the IAPA officers also urged action by the Mexican Senate's Legislative Studies Committee and Justice Committee, which were understood to be reviewing a report that the Chamber of Deputies sent them in April about amendments to the Penal Code concerning offenses committed against freedom of expression. The IAPA calls for this initiative not to be passed, but rather a more far-reaching one that would make crimes against journalists federal offenses.

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