Regina would always write about one-third more of the real truth than I dared to do in any story we covered. And I write more than most reporters.
A colleague of Martínez who requested anonymity in their interview with the Committee to Protect Journalists
A brutal murder followed by a deeply flawed investigation; the case of Regina Martínez is emblematic of Mexico's war on journalists.
"Regina would always write about one-third more of the real truth than I dared to do in any story we covered," said a fellow journalist from Xalapa, Veracruz State, "and I write more than most reporters." Even among the most courageous of Mexican journalists, Regina Martínez, 49, was considered particularly brave. Before she was murdered in April 2012, she had spent thirty years working as a reporter, and was best known for her work at the weekly Proceso where she filed regular reports about organized crime and political corruption; according to her former friend and colleague, Jorge Carrasco Araizaga, Martínez's unflinching approach to journalism put quite a few noses out of joint.
On the afternoon of 28 April 2012, Martínez was found dead at her home in Xalapa; she had been badly beaten and then strangled. Her murder sent shockwaves through the journalistic community in Veracruz, and former colleagues suggested - quite reasonably - that her death might have been related to her work investigating the links between state employees and local criminals: in the final weeks of her life, Martínez had written about corrupt judges, police officers with links to drug gangs and mayors fighting side by side with gangsters in a gunfight with the army.
But despite this apparently obvious line of inquiry, the investigating authorities dragged their heels and seemed unwilling to look into the possible link between Martinez's death and her work; it was a familiar pattern in Mexico, where the impunity rate for the murder of journalists is approximately 90%.
Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to practise journalism, and, for the last 12 years, Veracruz has been its most lethal - and some say corrupt - state. At least ten journalists have been killed there since 2010 because of their work, and organised crime gangs with links to corrupt politicians and police are suspected of bearing responsibility for most of these killings. Attacks on the media are frequent, and manifestations of corruption can be dramatic: in November 2011, the offices of the local newspaper El Buen Tono were assaulted by a group of armed men who destroyed equipment and set fire to the premises; the whole incident was captured on security cameras and can still be viewed on Youtube. In December 2011, 900 municipal police officers in Veracruz were fired because of corruption and law enforcement was handed over to the Mexican Navy.
An early announcement by investigators that Martínez's murder had been a "crime of passion" was roundly dismissed by journalists and activists who, once again, called for an investigation into her work as a possible motive for her murder. But this connection was never explored, despite a declaration in May 2012 by two members of the Zetas drug cartel that Martínez's murder was connected to drug crime.
In October 2012, investigators announced that they had arrested one of Martínez's murderers, and that the motive for the killing was now robbery. The suspect was Jorge Antonio Hernández Silva, an illiterate, petty thief with no history of violence. Martinez's former colleagues, including Carrasco, poured scorn on this new interpretation. The police said that they were also seeking a second suspect, José Adrián Hernández Domínguez.
Hernández Silva, investigators said, had confessed to the murder. But, apart from his confession, there was little evidence linking him to the crime. Laura Borbolla, Mexico's Federal Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression, expressed strong doubts about the investigation, saying that they couldn't even place Hernández Silva at the scene of the crime. Later, in front of a judge, Hernández Silva said that he had been tortured by the interrogating police and forced into repeating their version of events as his own; he stated that he had nothing to do with Martinez's killing.
Despite glaring failings in the investigation, on 10 April 2013, a court in Xalapa convicted Hernández Silva and sentenced him to 38 years and two months in prison for the murder. Journalists rejected the verdict; many considered the petty thief to be a convenient fall guy.
In the same month that Hernández Silva was sentenced, José Carrasco, the reporter responsible for Proceso's coverage of the murder investigation, and a forensic critic of its flaws and inconsistencies, received messages that ex-state employees close to the state governor were planning an attack on him; he went into hiding with several bodyguards.
In August of that year, a Veracruz court decided that Hernández Silva had not been given a fair trial and revoked his sentence; fourteen months later, the same court ordered his re-arrest so that he could complete his original sentence. His alleged accomplice, Hernández Domínguez, has never been found and the investigation into Regina Martínez's death remains open.