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Report of Mexican citizen journalist's murder appears via her own twitter account

U.S. Ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne (l) meets with Tamaulipas Governor Egidio Torre Cantú (r)
U.S. Ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne (l) meets with Tamaulipas Governor Egidio Torre Cantú (r)

Embassy of the United States in Mexico City via Wikimedia Commons

In the last 14 years, 12 journalists have been killed in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. The political will to solve these crimes and guarantee the protection and defense of free expression is sorely lacking. This has resulted in serious gaps in information on public safety issues, as the mainstream media avoid reporting on crime. According to the Mexico and Central America office of IFEX member Article 19, residents of the state have taken to social media to fill this gap.

One of those residents is María del Rosario Fuentes Rubio, a doctor in Reynosa who also tweeted anonymously using the @Miut3 account, under the pseudonym Felina. She had been a contributor to Valor por Tamaulipas (Courage for Tamaulipas), a website used by citizen journalists to report on criminal activity, until she had to stop in 2013 for safety reasons, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). She also regularly posted to a related Facebook page called Responsabilidad por Tamaulipas.

An unidentified drug cartel had been looking for the identities of the administrators of the Valor por Tamaulipas social media accounts. In February of 2013 they even circulated a flyer offering a reward of USD 44,000 for that information. Despite warnings that it was dangerous for her to continue reporting on organized crime via social media, Del Rosario was undeterred, ultimately paying with her life after criminal groups finally found out that it was she who was behind the @Miut3 account.

The Daily Beast website reported that Del Rosario had been kidnapped, along with other medical staff, from the Tierra Santa hospital where she worked as a doctor. The suspected motive for the kidnapping was retaliation for the death of a 4-year-old who had died after receiving treatment. CPJ reported that the boy was the son of a cartel member. It is thought that her kidnappers uncovered her true identity after discovering a link to her twitter account on her phone.

In a very grim turn of events, it is now suspected that Del Rosario has been killed, and that cartel members used her own twitter account to announce her death, posting warnings and pictures of her body. On the morning of 16 October this message was sent via @Miut3: “#reynosafollow FRIENDS AND FAMILY, MY REAL NAME IS MARÍA DEL ROSARIO FUENTES RUBIO. I AM A PHYSICIAN. TODAY MY LIFE HAS COME TO AN END”. Messages that appeared later warned her followers to stop using social media to report on crime and told other citizen journalists that the cartels were closing in on them. After an image of Del Rosario's body was posted, Twitter shut down the account, reported The Daily Beast. The founder of Valor por Tamaulipas, whose identity remains anonymous, confirmed that the photos are of Del Rosario.

Article 19 reports that an official with the Tamaulipas Attorney General said that no body has been recovered that matches the photos of Del Rosario, but that she had been reported missing. Officially the case remains open as a kidnapping.

A press release from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says that Del Rosario's family has now left Mexico, after filing an official report on her suspected murder.

Attacks on netizens in Mexico are not new. In 2011 RSF reported on the assassinations of four people killed in Tamaulipas for online reporting on narcotraffickers' activities. María Elizabeth Macías was found beheaded on 24 September 2011 in the city of Nuevo Laredo. She had used social media to expose organized crime, writing under the pen name "La Nena de Laredo" (The Laredo Girl).

In a 2010 CPJ report, more than 20 Reynosa journalists told CPJ that the Gulf cartel “controls local government and dictates what can and cannot be covered in the press”. Article 19 is calling for measures that will allow the free flow of information to fill the news gap that currently exists in the state. Mexico is currently ranked 152 out of 180 countries on the RSF press freedom index and is in the top 10 countries in CPJ's 2014 Global Impunity Index, which shines a light on places where the killings of journalists routinely go unpunished.

After reports of Del Rosario's death appeared online, the founder of Valor por Tamaulipas, posted on the site, “Today @Miut3 ceases to report. But what the criminals do not know is that she is a part of our soul and she would never surrender us to organized crime.”

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