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Police officers kidnap, attempt to kill journalist in Veracruz

(CEPET/IFEX) - On 17 July 2010, officers from the Oluta municipal police force, in the state of Veracruz, kidnapped and attempted to kill Edgar Irán López Hernández, a reporter for the "Órale" newspaper. The incident took place after López Hernández witnessed police officers and the municipality's mayor harassing another reporter.

At approximately 9:00 p.m. on the evening of 17 July, López Hernández and fellow reporter Juan José Barragán, of the daily "Diario del Istmo", went to Oluta to cover a political event. When they arrived, residents of the area were complaining that there were armed officers in the police station in a drunken state. As a result of the situation, the mayor of the area, Jesús Manuel Garduza Salcedo, arrived at the scene and was photographed by Enrique Quiroz García, a reporter for "Notisur", as he was reprimanding one of the officers, who had been arrested because of his advanced state of inebriation.

The mayor then became annoyed and grabbed the camera from Quiroz García, while officers tried unsuccessfully to grab the reporter and take him to a cell in the police station. López Hernández was watching the incident from a distance of a few metres while other reporters arrived at the scene and witnessed the mayor as he left for his home with Quiroz García's camera. The reporters decided to follow Garduza Salcedo and attempt to get him to return the camera to Quiroz García.

While this was taking place, López Hernández left and began driving along the Oluta-Acayucan road in order to return the car that his newspaper had assigned to him that day. As he was driving, he called Barragán and said that he was being following by one of the municipal police force's squad cars. This fact was brought to the attention of the mayor, who did nothing to stop the police officers from following López Hernández. Barragán then tried several times to call López Hernández and when he finally managed to establish a connection he heard voices presumed to be those of the police officers threatening the reporter.

Barragán subsequently lost contact with López Hernández. Finally, the reporter called Barragán and said, "Please don't publish anything about this. Please don't. I'll explain later." His colleagues then decided to start looking for him. Soon after 11:00 p.m. they found his vehicle, abandoned and with the keys still in it, beside a gas station.

According to the reporters, the mayor continued to downplay the gravity of the situation. He sent someone to return to the camera to Quiroz García, who refused to take it back until his colleague was located. The mayor then hurled insults at Quiroz García and warned him that if he refused to take the camera back it would be destroyed.

The reporters continued to look for López Hernández until finally his family and Barragán received phone calls from him around midnight. He told them that he had been dropped off on a dirt road on the way to the municipality of Sayula de Alemán. He was finally found on the road, showing obvious signs of having been beaten.

López Hernández said eight Oluta police officers wearing balaclavas had stopped him and forced him into their squad car. They then beat him with their weapons while threatening to kill him if anything about what had taken place that night was published by the press.

The officers demanded that he give them information about Quiroz García y Barragán, as well as Benigno Montes de Oca and Daniel Vázquez Alcázar, reporters for "El Dictamen" y "Diario del Sur" respectively. They apparently wanted the information in order to locate the journalists and prevent them from reporting on the incident since they were also witnesses to what had taken place.

The journalist's assailants finally dropped him off on the dirt road, where they discussed what should be done with him. Eventually they left in the squad car, after taking 8,000 pesos (approx. US$625), a bag containing a laptop, a photographic camera, a video camera and a tripod from the journalist. However, when López Hernández began walking to seek help, the squad car returned. The police officers got out and pointed their rifles at the reporter. One of them ordered him to get down on his knees and put his rifle to the journalist's head. López Hernandez reacted by swinging his arm to push the gun away, at which point a shot was fired and the reporter decided to fall to the ground. One of the officers then yelled for them to leave, saying they had shot him. The officers got in the squad car and fled. López Hernández managed to make his way to a nearby house, from where he informed his colleagues of his location.

Both Quiroz García and López Hernández have filed a complaint about the actions against them with the Public Prosecutor's Investigations Office in Acayuca. The complaint covers several crimes, including attempted murder. The mayor, Garduza Salcedo, has said that the officer whom he reprimanded has already been fired and that, if the Public Prosecutor's Office requires it, he will hand over the officers responsible for the actions against López Hernández. He noted that he "won't be an accomplice to any officer who has committed an abuse of authority or arbitrary action against a citizen" and that "if they are at fault, they will pay." No one, however, has been arrested in the case.

(Please note this is an abridged translation.)

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