Freedom of Expression

Press release R62/22

The Office of the Special Rapporteur warns about the normalization and worsening of violence against journalists in Mexico and urges the authorities to activate complementary measures

March 24, 2022

Washington D.C. - The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) warns about the normalization and deepening of violence against journalists in Mexico. In this context, the Office calls on the authorities to assess the causes and effects of this phenomenon and urges them to take complementary measures to those already in place in terms of violence prevention, protection of journalists and the fight against impunity for crimes against the press.

In the first ten weeks of the year 2022, the Office of the Special Rapporteur has received at least eight reports of murders of journalists for reasons that could be related to the exercise of the journalistic function. Between January and March, the Office has been informed about the murder of Roberto Toledo, in the state of Michoacán; Heber López Vásquez, in the state of Oaxaca; Jorge Luis Camero Zazueta, in the state of Sonora; and Juan Carlos Muñiz, in the state of Zacatecas. In 2021, the Rapporteur’s Office recorded at least ten crimes against journalists in Mexico. Previously, this Office had pronounced on the murder of reporter José Luis Gamboa Arenas, in the state of Veracruz and Alfonso Margarito Martínez Esquivel in the state of Baja California; and, together with the IACHR and the Office in Mexico of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN-HCHR), it condemned the murder of journalist Lourdes Maldonado, in the state of Baja California. During this period, the Special Rapporteur’s office also documented at least two attacks against reporters, one of whom was accompanied by bodyguards assigned by the Federal Protection Mechanism at the time of the events. On the other hand, the Rapporteur’s office has received information on recurrent stigmatizing remarks against the press by federal and local public officials.

The Office notes with particular concern the upsurge in violence against journalists in Mexico and reiterates that this type of attack violates freedom of expression in both its individual and collective dimensions, as it affects society's right to be informed, and cannot be tolerated in a democratic society.

In the context of the crisis of violence currently facing the press in Mexico, the Rapporteur’s Office has been informed of and values the efforts undertaken by the State, among which the authorities have highlighted the plan to create a National System of Prevention and Protection for human rights defenders and journalists, in the framework of which a series of regional dialogues have been initiated with the aim of providing civil society with plural and inclusive spaces for participation. The federal government considers that the end point of this process is the presentation of a proposal for a General Law -which requires prior constitutional adjustment- and which seeks to address the phenomenon of violence against the press and human rights defenders from a State vision, in which the authorities of the three levels of government are coordinated. According to the information available, this instrument will also have to be discussed and approved by Parliament. In addition, this Office has learned that various public officials have condemned the murders and have made public commitments with respect to the pursuit of justice and the non-impunity of the facts. The State also reported that as a complementary measure it is working with UNESCO to provide training to the various levels of government; and highlighted that the current administration has allocated 1.2 billion Mexican pesos to the current protection mechanism and indicated that collaboration agreements have been signed with various local authorities.

At a critical moment for press freedom guarantees, the Office considers that: (i) the human and financial resources allocated to the current protection mechanism have not been effective in preventing the murder of journalists; (ii) the aforementioned efforts on structural adjustments to the protection system and the announced training of officials are unfortunately temporarily out of step with the urgency of the situation; and (iii) the messages of official rejection of lethal violence against the press are mixed and confused in time and space with stigmatizing official messages that are framed in a complex and sustained struggle of the federal authorities over journalists and the media. The relevance assigned by the authorities to their conflict with the press inevitably overshadows the messages of rejection to the violence they have issued, causing them to lose the forcefulness, conviction, and clarity they should have at this moment.

The Rapporteur’s Office received a communication from the Presidential Spokesperson's Office indicating that the Federal Government: a) condemns any act of violence against persons exercising the profession of journalist; b) demands that investigations be carried out to clarify the facts and punish those responsible; c) recognizes that violence against the press is also an affront to society; and d) reiterates the call to all levels of government to protect the life and integrity of journalists. The Presidential Spokesperson's Office closes its assessment by highlighting the State's obligation to freedom of expression and pluralism.

For the Special Rapporteur, the current institutional efforts are disjointed, sometimes contradictory, and together are insufficient to contain the phenomenon of violence against the press, which currently represents one of the main threats to freedom of expression in Mexico. In this sense, this Office calls on the State to urgently take complementary measures to those already announced, which can be activated in the short term and aimed at strengthening the institutional deployment at the different levels of authority and competence.

Likewise, and in line with the recommendations made in the Special Report on the Situation of Freedom of Expression in Mexico, the Rapporteur’s Office  calls on the authorities to recognize the legitimacy and value of the work of journalists at the highest levels of the State and to repudiate at all times the crimes perpetrated against them. The Office observes fragility in the guarantees of freedom of expression in Mexico and reminds the State that those who hold positions of public leadership are called upon to maintain a discourse favorable to public deliberation, and to refrain from making speeches that may, directly or indirectly, encourage or promote violence against communicators and journalists.

Given the centrality of journalistic work in a democratic society, the role of the international community in condemning acts of violence against the press, regardless of the country in which they occur, is fundamental for the Office of the Special Rapporteur. In this sense, the Office of the Special Rapporteur invites the authorities to receive these messages within the framework of the dialogue inherent to the observation of human rights and as a sign of a genuine commitment of the international community to contribute to the cessation of violence against the press as a common objective.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to encourage the hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in the consolidation and development of the democratic system.