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Riot police assault journalists during protest

(CEPET/IFEX) - On 19 May 2010, six journalists from various media outlets were assaulted and threatened by a group of state riot police in Villahermosa, Tabasco (southeastern Mexico). The journalists were covering a protest by taxi drivers against a rise in taxes on their rates which was approved by the Communications and Transport Secretariat (Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes, SCT).

Around 3 p.m. a group of drivers began to gather in the Ciudad Deportiva parking lot to march against the recent government ruling. Before the protest could begin, around 50 riot police and 10 SCT inspectors arrived to disperse the protestors. Two tow trucks were also brought to the scene to remove some taxis that were parked in the area.

A melee ensued between the authorities and the drivers who surrounded the vehicles to prevent them being towed. Photographers began to take photos of the confrontation and reporters approached the inspectors to ask them about the operation being carried out. They began to strike the journalists and swat away their cameras and recording devices, while the police struck the journalists' hands and bodies with clubs.

Supported by another 50 officers who arrived on the scene, riot police got hold of one of the taxi drivers and punched the protestors and journalists. The following journalists were assaulted and suffered injuries: Marcelo López and Félix Nolasco, of "El Heraldo de Tabasco"; Jaime Avalos, of "Novedades"; Eric Banda, of "Tabasco Hoy"; Carlos Castro, of "Diario Olmeca", and David Michel Estrada, of "El independiente del Sureste".

After containing the protest and after the SCT inspectors left, the police officers began to leave the area. As they tried to get back on their buses they were once again surrounded by the taxi drivers and journalists. One of the officers fired some shots into the air to frighten away the crowds.

Most of the photographers received medical attention from Red Cross personnel. Marcelo López, who sustained a brain injury, was hospitalised and kept under observation.

On 20 May, a group of journalists gathered in the streets of Villahermosa, where they placed cameras, tape recorders and notebooks on the ground as a form of protest against the treatment of their colleagues by the police.

The Tabasco state government released a statement saying that they did not condone the excessive use of force by the police and promised to "exhaustively investigate the event and find and punish those responsible". Later, the head of the Operations Department of the SCT, Antonio Quirarte, resigned after being accused of leading the "regrettable actions" by the SCT officers.

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