The story of her disappearance started, as do the stories of so many other Mexican journalists, with a sudden kidnapping by a group of armed assailants. A police beat reporter working in a very dangerous part of the country, Anabel Flores Salazar's story also has an all too familiar ending – she was later found dead, miles away from home.
Flores Salazar, a crime reporter for El Sol de Orizaba newspaper, was found dead on 9 February 2016 in the state of Puebla, just one day after being abducted in the middle of the night from her home in Veracruz. She was known for her reporting on the local Zetas drug cartel, but family members did not report Flores Salazar receiving threats before her abduction.
According to the local office of IFEX member ARTICLE 19, the people who abducted Flores Salazar went from room to room in her home until they found her. The journalist's aunt, who was also in the house at the time, said the armed men told the family that they had a warrant for Flores Salazar's arrest.
After the kidnapping was reported, the Veracruz state prosecutor's office released a statement saying that they were doing everything possible to find the missing reporter. In the same statement, the office also said that in the course of their investigation into the abduction, they had found a connection between Flores Salazar and an alleged member of an organized crime group. According to the prosecutor's office, she was in the company of Victor Osorio Santacruz “El Pantera”, in August 2014, when he was arrested for having probable links to organized crime. Flores Salazar's aunt, however, told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), that her niece had simply been eating in the same restaurant as “El Pantera” when the arrest took place.
(This editorial cartoon shows Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte saying: “Anabel Flores was in bad company: she lived in the state that I govern.”)
"Veracruz authorities have a history of denigrating the activities of local journalists without providing any concrete evidence," commented Carlos Lauría, CPJ's senior program coordinator for the Americas. Claudio Paolillo, of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), added that "speculation about the alleged connection between the journalist and organized crime… while she remained missing, further increased the risk to her physical safety and demonstrates the lack of professionalism and insensitivity” of the Veracruz state prosecutor's office.
Veracruz has been dealing with mounting cases of missing and killed journalists for years. ARTICLE 19's Mexico and Central America office released a special report this week on the topic of journalist disappearances in Mexico. Veracruz is one of the states with the highest number of journalists who have disappeared between 2003 and 2015. One year ago, José Moisés Sánchez Cerezo went missing and was later found dead in Veracruz. Rubén Espinosa fled Veracruz in July, only to be later killed in Mexico City. With the murder of Flores Salazar, 15 Veracruz journalists have been killed since Governor Javier Duarte took office in 2010. Three more have disappeared.
José Martínez Sánchez, a spokesperson from the Veracruz state prosecutor's office, told CPJ that authorities have not ruled out any lines of investigation, but it remains to be seen whether this case will be one of the few that sees justice, or whether it will be added to the scores of cases about Mexican journalists that remain mired in impunity.
In 2015, ARTICLE 19 documented 67 attacks on journalists in Veracruz and says that it is the single most dangerous place in Mexico to be a journalist. According to the 2015 Reporters Without Borders (RSF) press freedom index, Mexico is the western hemisphere's most dangerous country for journalists. RSF is calling on Mexican authorities to establish effective measures for protecting journalists, and both ARTICLE 19 and CPJ have called on federal authorities to take over the investigation in this case.