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Newspaper's delivery staff harassed, one vendor shot

(CEPET/IFEX) - In the early morning of 1 June 2010, a group of armed individuals attacked three "Noroeste" newspaper delivery men. One of the men was shot and injured. The newspaper's management considers the incident to be a direct attack against the media outlet and a violation of press freedom.

The first incident happened around 5:30 a.m. on General Ángel Flores street, in the centre of Culiacán, where four armed men driving in a black GMC Yukon van intercepted a newspaper vendor (the names of all the victims have been omitted) and seized his Honda Cargo 125 motorcycle, which is the property of Grupo Editorial Noroeste.

At 5:50 a.m. a similar incident took place when another "Noroeste" worker was stopped by what is assumed to be the same vehicle. For fear of being assaulted and losing his motorcycle, the delivery man sped up, trying to take shelter in a military zone, but just before he reached the entrance the van caught up to him. "One of the armed men yelled at me to pull over. I did so and they told me they were with the government and that they were going to check me out," said the worker.

According to the vendor's testimony, one of the men forced to get into the van. He was put in the passenger seat and driven through the streets of Melchor Ocampo. Finally, they stopped in front of a vacant lot where he was let out of the van.

One of the assailants pointed a gun to his head and asked him where he worked. "I told them I deliver newspapers for 'Noroeste' and he said this would be the last job I would have. They said I had to kneel and they would kill me. I really thought that they were going to kill me. 'Why aren't you kneeling down', they asked and then they started to shoot."

The newspaper vendor ran, but was shot in the hand and abdomen. However, he did manage to get to safety and a neighbour helped him to the hospital, where evidence of other bullets were found in his clothes. He is still being treated.

A few minutes later a third deliveryman was robbed of a Honda Cargo 125 motorcycle by people fitting the same description as those in the Yukon van.

Manuel Becerra González, the director of "Noroeste", told CEPET he had already filed a complaint with the State Attorney General and attributed the attacks to the dangerous climate in the area in anticipation of the next elections, as well as recent publications by the paper documenting the involvement of the Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa in support of the campaign of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional), which is currently in power in the state.

On 3 June, "Noroeste" wrote in its editorial that the attacks of 1 June cannot be considered simple robberies. "The attackers had specifically asked their victims who they were working for and when they responded 'Noroeste', they were threatened, shot, and told this would be their last job."

Becerra González said that adjusting the paper's editorial line is not an option. He said that instead of yielding to those who have tried to intimidate them, they are asking the government to fulfill its obligation to protect journalists.

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