The attack on writer, journalist and activist Lydia Cacho Ribeiro on 21 July 2019 exposes once again the dangers of being a journalist in Mexico, as well as the urgent need to combat impunity, said PEN International, PEN Canada, English PEN, PEN Guadalajara, PEN San Miguel de Allende, Scottish PEN and Swedish PEN today.
On 21 July 2019, two individuals broke into Cacho’s home, stealing equipment and research materials and killing her dogs. According to ARTICLE 19’s office for Mexico and Central America, ‘Security experts consulted by the journalist after the break in claim that “they came for her” […] fortunately, she was not at home.’ According to Cacho, that very same weekend, the government, which was aware that she was due to return home following a work trip, withdrew the protection on her home as well as her bodyguard, obliging her to flee the country for her own safety. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Special Prosecutor for Attention to Crimes Committed Against Freedom of Expression (Fiscalía Especial para la Atención de Delitos cometidos contra la Libertad de Expresión – FEADLE) has opened an investigation.
Impunity casts a wide shadow over freedom of expression in Mexico. The State’s failure to investigate and prosecute crimes against writers and journalists emboldens perpetrators and puts journalists at risk. The Mexican authorities must carry out a swift and thorough investigation into the recent attack against Lydia Cacho and prosecute those responsible.
The attacks against Cacho took place in the context of her quest for justice for the arbitrary detention and ill-treatment to which she was subjected in 2005 by Puebla state judicial officers after the publication of her book Los Demonios del Edén (The Demons of Eden), which exposed a paedophile network operating in the states of Puebla and Quintana Roo.
On 31 July 2018, the UN’s Human Rights Council held Mexico responsible for the violation of Cacho’s human rights, for the torture to which she was subjected and for the failure of due diligence in the investigation. As a consequence of their ruling, on 11 April 2019, FEADLE issued arrest warrants for Puebla’s former governor Mario Marín Torres, businessman José Kamel Nacif, and former undersecretary of Public Security of Puebla Hugo Adolfo Karam Beltrán for their alleged involvement as the masterminds of Cacho’s torture. Following the latest attack, Lydia Cacho released a defiant video statement:
‘Like many journalists, I focus on human rights, gender equality, feminism, a perspective that embraces the rights of men, women, girls and boys. And I won’t stop. We have to move from indignation to action. All the culprits must be detained, not only those who attacked me, obviously, but also those responsible for violence against boys, girls and women that I have been exposing, and who are currently hiding from the law. That’s what this is all about.’
Cacho has been the target of repeated reprisals for her investigations. In 2009 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted Cacho precautionary protective measures and asked the Mexican government to take action to protect her as a result of harassment and monitoring by armed men. However, in 2012 Cacho was forced to flee the country for her own security. She returned to Mexico in 2014. Mexico continues to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to practice journalism. Thus far in the incumbency of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, at least nine journalists have been killed; three of whom have been killed in the last week. According to ARTICLE 19’s office for Mexico and Central America, 99 per cent of threats against journalists are unsolved. Additionally, the repeated attempts to discredit Mexico’s journalists, columnists and writers by López Obrador and public officials put freedom of expression, opinion and information at risk, not just in traditional media but also on social media.
The attack against Lydia Cacho is an attack on freedom of expression. PEN International and its Centres urge the Mexican state to strengthen protections for freedom of expression in the country, protect its journalists and to break the cycle of impunity that surrounds the perpetrators of such violence.
Lydia Cacho Ribeiro has worked as a journalist for over 30 years, serving as editor, presenter, and columnist for various national and international media outlets. She is the co-founder of the Network of Journalists from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. She is Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. She is the author of books Los Demonios del Edén (The Demons of Eden), Muérdele el corazón (Bite the Heart), Esta boca es mía y tuya también (This Mouth is Mine and Yours Too), Memorias de una Infamia (Memoirs of a Scandal), Con mi hij@ no (Not with my daughter/son), Esclavas de poder: un viaje al corazón de la trata sexual de mujeres y niñas en el mundo (Slavery Inc. the Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking), En busca de Kayla (In Search of Kayla), Sexo y Amor en tiempos de crisis (Sex and Love in Times of Crisis), among others. In 2012, she contributed to PEN’s Write Against Impunity Campaign. Cacho has received multiple awards, among them the PEN/Oxfam Novib Freedom of Expression Award (2007), the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Award (2008), the 2008 Tucholsky prize from Swedish PEN, the 2009 One Humanity Award from Canadian PEN, and the PEN Pinter Prize for an International Writer of Courage (2010) from English PEN.