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Free expression fears rise after inauguration-day arrests in Mexico

On 1 December 2012, the day of Enrique Peña Nieto's inauguration as President of Mexico, protests by hundreds of demonstrators in Mexico City ended in dozens of arrests, including those of two photographers, Mircea Ioan Topoleanu and Brandon Daniel Bazán. On 9 December they were freed along with 54 of the other 69 people arrested during the clashes.

The highly contested election results of the 1 July election saw the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate take the country's highest post after the party had been out of power since 2000. Observers, journalists and bloggers had their work obstructed during and leading up to the election. The lack of transparency surrounding the process spawned protests and controversy in Mexico this summer.

The fact that protests once again erupted when Peña Nieto was sworn in, and that these were met with heavy-handed arrests and detentions, has caused IFEX members to question what the future holds for freedom of expression and the press in Mexico. That he has promised that his government will protect freedom of expression does not seem to have quelled their fears.

Local group Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social (Cencos) focused on the all-too-familiar issue of impunity of human rights abuses, in their release, saying: “If these abuses are to go unpunished, it will … set a precedent of impunity that will seriously affect the relationship between the state forces and the journalism community.”

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said that the inauguration-day protests should be a warning to the federal government, which it said was already being challenged on its very first day. “The question now is what guarantees will fundamental freedoms be given during the next six years in a country with such an appalling human rights record?”.

Commenting on the arrest of Romanian photographer Topoleanu, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that it was not a good sign that his arrest had occurred on the first day of President Enrique Peña Nieto's term, which started on “the heels of the most repressive period for the Mexican press in the country's history”.

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