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Local newspaper journalists are Mexico's forgotten victims, says RSF

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has confirmed in a visit to the central states of Durango and Coahuila that they continue to experience a high rate of press freedom violations one year after journalist Eliseo Barrón Hernández's murder in Goméz Palacio, in Durango.

The drug cartels and Los Zetas, a paramilitary group that is in their pay, are the main instigators of the violence and threats against local journalists, who live in permanent fear. In May 2010, at least three local newspapers were the target of threats or reprisals that were directly linked to their coverage of organised crime.

The "Noticias de El Sol de la Laguna" newspaper immediately decided to stop covering crime after threats were made against one of its reporters, Javier Adame Gómez, on 20 May. The threats followed the publication of reports about an attack in Torreón in which eight people died.

A few days later, Karla Guadalupe Tinoco Santillán, "La Opinión"'s correspondent in the municipality of Vicente Guerrero (Durango), received threatening telephone messages warning her "not to get in our way." The messages, which were typical of the kind used by organised crime, were prompted by an article she wrote about a series of kidnappings.

The same week, on 30 May, gunmen burst into the home of another "La Opinión" journalist, but only his wife and children were present. The next day, another newspaper in the region, "Express de Multimedios", was ordered to publish photos of six decapitated heads that had been found that morning "or else the journalists would suffer the same fate".

Although the state of Coahuila amended its criminal code in May 2008, making murders of journalists punishable by a minimum of 60 years in prison with no possibility of parole, violence against the media continues. Two journalists were killed in May 2009. Carlos Ortega Melo Samper of "Tiempo de Durango" was murdered in Santa María del Oro (Durango) on 3 May 2009. The body of Eliseo Barrón, a crime reporter for the weekly "Milenio Torreón", was found three weeks later.

Two more journalists were murdered in quick succession in the same region in late 2009 and early 2010. They were Vladimir Antuna García of "Tiempo de Durango", who was found dead on 2 November 2009, and Valentín Valdés Espinosa of "Zócalo de Saltillo", who was kidnapped in Coahuila on 7 January 2010 and was found dead the next day.

"What's new?" was the question posed by journalist Julian Parra Ibarra in an editorial published on 31 May 2010 to mark the first anniversary of Barrón's death. A year after his murder and the arrest on 6 June 2009 of five members of Los Zetas on suspicion of carrying out the killing, the investigation has ground to a halt.

"Is there anything positive we can derive from this sad story?" the editorial asked. "Are there any grounds for thinking his fight was not in vain?" Like the editorialist, who was a friend of Barrón's, Reporters Without Borders comes to the same conclusion: "Nothing has changed and, worse still, no one says anything."

Now commonplace, the threats against journalists are leading to more and more self-censorship. Whenever an article about the activities of organised crime is published in a regional newspaper, the author is putting his life, and the lives of his family and colleagues, in danger.

This climate of terror is not new. Violent crime, including kidnapping, which is now widespread, has been growing since 2007 and affects all sectors of the population. Rafael Ortiz Martínez of the daily "Zócalo" in Monclova (Coahuila), has been missing since July 2006. Onésimo Zúñiga of "Noticias de El Sol de La Laguna" was kidnapped for several hours by an armed group in April 2007.

This sad state of affairs is not attributable to organised crime alone. It also concerns the authorities in states such as Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, where a second humanitarian convoy trying to reach the Triqui indigenous village of San Juan Copala had to turn back because of a lack of security guarantees.

The armed attack on the first convoy on 27 April 2010 left a toll of two humanitarian activists dead and a journalist wounded (David Cilia of the magazine "Contralínea"). Ixtli Martínez, the Oaxaca correspondent for MVS-Radio and the Associated Press, sustained a gunshot injury during clashes between students on the campus of the Benito Juárez Autonomous University in the city of Oaxaca on 10 June.

Finally, Reporters Without Borders regards the comments that Interior Minister Fernando Francisco Gómez Mont, the No. 2 in the federal government, made recently about journalists as inappropriate and dangerous. Gómez, who was interviewed by Reporters Without Borders during a previous visit in July 2009, accused journalists of "glorifying drug trafficking and speaking ill of Mexico" and said they were entirely to blame for their own fate in places such as the troubled border city of Ciudad Juárez, where the press is increasingly complaining of abuses and violence perpetrated by the army.

Reporters Without Borders is of the view that his comments increase the dangers for all of Mexico's regional media and the lack or protection for journalists. A total of 62 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2000, while 11 others have gone missing since 2003.

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