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Assassination of Mexican journalist highlights ineffectiveness of protection programmes

Police in Veracruz
Police in Veracruz

AP Photo/Felix Marquez

On the night of 20 July 2016, Pedro Tamayo Rosas was shot and killed outside his home in the municipality of Tierra Blanca, Veracruz state. After receiving threats in January, the journalist had relocated due to the level of insecurity and concerns that he would be harmed. The Veracruz State Commission for the Care and Protection of Journalists (Comisión Estatal para la Atención y Protección de los Periodistas, CEAPP) provided him with protective measures, including police patrols and relocation assistance. At that time, CEAPP official Jorge Morales told ARTICLE 19 that Tamayo was a well-known individual in his community and confirmed that the journalist had been subjected to harassment.

Tamayo was editor of La Voz de Tierra Blanca newspaper and also collaborated with the El Piñero de la Cuenca and Al Calor Político media outlets. He covered news about violence and social protests in the city. In an interview with ARTICLE 19, El Piñero de la Cuenca deputy editor Roberto Hernández, said that the Veracruz CEAPP's protective measures "were to no avail since those responsible for protecting him only did rounds once or twice a week." Hernández also said that Tamayo had been "advised to live elsewhere but he believed the situation would calm down once he publicised what had been happening." Tamayo believed "that putting out a public response would lower the tension and that he was going to be able to live peaceably with the help of the authorities," as such he decided to return to his home in Tierra Blanca.

After leaving Veracruz with his family at the end of March, Tamayo decided to decline the relocation assistance and police presence provided by the CEAPP. Despite this, the journalist continued to be under CEAPP protection. According to Morales, the CEAPP continued to provide security patrols and communications monitoring.

It is important to note that this is not the first assassination of a journalist in this region, on the border between the states of Veracruz and Oaxaca. The body of journalist Armando Saldaña Morales, a resident of Tezonapa, Veracruz, was found in the municipality of Cosolapa, Oaxaca on 4 May 2015, with gunshot wounds and indications of torture. Saldaña worked in the Ke Buena 100.9 FM radio station's news department. His Ke Buena nametag was found on his body. On 11 August 2014, Octavio Rojas Hernández, a correspondent for El Buen Tono newspaper, was assassinated at his home in Cosolapa.

The number of attacks on journalists in Veracruz is very worrisome, especially the number of assassinations that have taken place while the current governor, Javier Duarte, has been in power. ARTICLE 19 has documented a total of 17 such cases. This is indicative of a growing and unrelenting wave of violence against the press in Veracruz. This alarming pattern demonstrates the ineffectiveness of local institutions like the CEAPP and municipal security forces. Likewise, the federal authorities, such as the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (Fiscalía Especializada para la Atención de Delitos cometidos contra la Libertad de Expresión, FEADLE) and the Protective Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists (Mecanismo de Protección a Personas Defensoras de Derechos Humanos), have not been able to reverse the prevailing situation, despite a collaboration agreement signed in November 2015 with their state counterpart (Alerta Veracruz). This has resulted in greater impunity and a frequent repetition of attacks on the press.

Tamayo's assassination took place during the week of the first anniversary of photojournalist Rubén Espinosa's death. Espinosa was assassinated on 31 July 2015, along with four other individuals, in Mexico City. He had fled Veracruz after receiving multiple death threats.

ARTICLE 19 demands that the Veracruz Attorney General's Office conduct a prompt investigation into Tamayo's assassination, particularly taking into account his work as a journalist, and even more so the previous actions against him, of which the authorities were made aware and had been put in charge of protecting him in January.

Likewise, ARTICLE 19 notes that FEADLE and the Federal Attorney General's Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) have a constitutional responsibility to look into cases of serious crimes in order to identify the existence of adverse conditions for freedom of expression, as in the current environment in Veracruz.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the local and federal authorities to ensure real protection for journalists and to refrain from using measures that are granted as a political means to escape the government's obligations. Protection in cases of threats and serious attacks is not limited to reactive measures, such as police security details or infrastructure installations, rather it should consist of a continuum of integrated actions involving due diligence in investigations and subsequent identification, prosecution and punishment of those responsible. In Tamayo's case, the prevalence of impunity as regards those who threatened him undoubtedly opened the possibility for his assassination.

In this sense, and taking into account the political changes that will take place in Veracruz as of 1 December 2016, ARTICLE 19 calls on governor-elect Miguel Ángel Yunes Linares to include within his agenda measures required to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression and information, in order to ensure the prevention, investigation and punishment of violations of rights recognized in the Constitution and international agreements to which the Mexico is a party.

Another grim week for the press

ARTICLE 19 has also been informed of the 19 July assassination of a worker for La Opinión de Apatzingán news agency, in Michoacán state. In addition, the organisation has received information regarding a 20 July attack suffered by photojournalist Dolores Rodríguez in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas state, associated with a violent eviction of National Education Workers' Coordinating Body (Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, CNTE) teachers by state security personnel and others. ARTICLE 19 is currently in the process of further documenting these incidents.

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