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The Veracruz journalist exodus continues

A passerby looks at posters of Veracruz state governor Javier Duarte with the words
A passerby looks at posters of Veracruz state governor Javier Duarte with the words "State without law" during a demonstration outside the Government of Veracruz building in Mexico City on Aug. 31, 2015 against the murder of photojournalist Ruben Espinosa and four women

REUTERS/Henry Romero

The following statement was originally published on freemedia.at on 18 August 2016.

Multiple threats and abuse that forced another journalist to flee the Mexican state of Veracruz last week illustrate the ongoing dangers for journalists and the need to ensure the efficient function of a protection mechanism for them, the International Press Institute (IPI) said today.

Noé Zavaleta, the Veracruz correspondent for Proceso magazine, said he left the state last week after filing complaints with local authorities about threats that followed the publication of his book, “The Hell of Javier Duarte”, criticising the state's governor and others.

The journalist recently spoke with news agency AVC Noticias from Mexico City, saying that the threats against him had ceased in the wake of his complaints. However, he criticised what he said was a delay of several days before investigators communicated with him.

He also said that he was remaining away from Veracruz for the time being and that he was currently accompanied by two guards at Proceso's insistence, making him “the most uncomfortable on the planet”.

Zavaleta's book criticised officials as well as the owner of the newspaper El Buen Tono, José Abella, who Zavaleta called “the privileged recipient of state advertising”. Abella reportedly threatened Zavaleta on Facebook and the journalist received a number of anonymous threats in what Reporters Without Borders (RSF) last week labelled a “campaign of intimidation”.

IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M. Ellis said the case, when viewed in light of the numerous journalists killed in Veracruz in recent years, showed the need to push Mexico's government to do more to protect journalists.

“While we are relieved that the threats against Mr. Zavaleta have stopped, we are concerned by the alleged delay in authorities' response and by the impact the current measures he must now take to stay safe will have on his ability to do his job,” Ellis said. “We urge authorities to make greater effort to protect journalists under threat and to bring the killers of so many of their colleagues to justice.”

Proceso correspondents rallied with Zavaleta after learning about the threats against him. In a letter to Mexico's president and other authorities they condemned the lack of investigation into journalists' deaths and demanded greater protection.

Veracruz is one of the most dangerous places for journalists in Latin America due to widespread corruption and drug-related violence in the state. Three of the eight journalists reported killed so far in Mexico this year died in Veracruz and critics of Duarte have argued that the danger that journalists face has only increased with his time in office.

The most-recent killing came on July 21, when two gunmen shot Pedro Rosas Tamayo outside his home. The journalist was under police protection at the time, but his family claims that officers stationed nearby failed to respond to gunshots or to stop the perpetrators from leaving calmly.

In May, Manuel Torres González was gunned down. Local authorities were criticised for initially ignoring his journalistic work as a possible motive.

However, authorities in Veracruz last week announced the arrest of a local chief of the Zetas criminal drug gang in connection with the February murder of Anabel Flores Salazar. She was found dead alongside a highway in neighbouring Pueblo state one day after she was abducted from her home in Veracruz at gunpoint. Authorities arrested another Zetas member in May and have said that the gang targeted Flores due to her work.

In 2015, two of 11 journalists murdered that year in Mexico were killed in Veracruz. But two more had links to the state: Ruben Espinosa, shot dead in Mexico City one year ago last month, had fled Veracruz and Armando Saldaña Morales, found dead in Oaxaca after apparent torture, had been abducted there.

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Rampant impunity: Another journalist dies in #Mexico for practising his profession https://t.co/qKpGMZy7Ke @CJFE… https://t.co/XnQTTjOGqy