The murder of two Mexican journalists in separate incidents on 15 May 2017 represents a terrible blow to freedom of expression and information in the country.
On 15 May 2017, Mexico suffered the dual blow of losing Javier Valdez Cárdenas – co-founder and reporter for the local weekly newspaper RíoDoce and correspondent for La Jornada – and Jonathan Rodríguez Córdova – journalist with the family-run weekly El Costeño.
Jennifer Clement, PEN International President, said:
Seven journalists murdered in five months in seven different states sends a clear message to all journalists and critical voices in Mexico – nowhere is safe. It is high time that the Mexican authorities send a message of their own – that all those involved in the killing of journalists will be found and fully held accountable. Mexico’s authorities have no more excuses, this deadly cycle of violence and impunity must end.
Javier Valdez Cárdenas, aged 50, was reportedly shot dead by unknown assailants close to the RíoDoce offices in Culiacán, Sinaloa State. He wrote regularly on drug trafficking and crime, and authored several books on the drugs trade, including his most recent, Narcoperiodismo (2016), which tells the experiences of journalists who have chosen to cover organised crime. In 2011, Valdez Cárdenas was the recipient of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) International Press Freedom Award and in 2013 he was awarded the PEN Mexico Prize for Journalistic Excellence. According to CPJ, Valdez had reported concerns for his safety in the weeks before his murder.
The state prosecutor, Juan José Ríos Estavillo, has reportedly not ruled out Valdez’ journalism as a possible line of investigation and confirmed that the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression (Fiscalía Especial para la Atención de Delitos cometidos en contra de la Libertad de Expresión – FEADLE) will also be investigating, according to Univision.com.
On the very same day in Autlán, Jalisco state, unknown assailants fired upon the car of Sonia Córdova Oceguera, deputy director of El Costeño – a family-run weekly that covered local news stories – seriously wounding her and killing her son Jonathan Rodríguez Córdova, aged 26, also a journalist with the newspaper. It is not known whether one or both of them were the intended target of the attack. The state prosecutor is reported to be investigating.
In total, at least 87 writers and print journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2004. Since March 2017, seven journalists have been killed – a rate of two per month. In March alone, journalists Cecilio Pineda Brito, Ricardo Monlui Cabrera and Miroslava Breach Velducea were gunned down, while journalists Armando Arrieta Granados and Julio Omar Gómez narrowly escaped attempts on their lives.
April bore witness to the murders of two more journalists; Maximino Rodríguez Palacios, editor of the news blog Colectivo Pericu who covered the crime beat. Rodríguez Palacios, aged 73, was shot dead in La Paz, in the state of Baja California Sur, on 14 April 2017. In the weeks before his death, he had reportedly incriminated the leader of a local cartel as the mastermind behind a spate of police killings. According to National Public Radio (NPR), the gun used against Rodríguez Palacios was the same as that used in the killing of a police officer; a clear indication that Rodríguez Palacios’ murder was linked to his work. On 29 April 2017, poet and local radio journalist Filiberto Álvarez Landeros, aged 65, was shot dead in Tlaquiltenango, Morelos state. Álvarez Landeros was reportedly making his way home after hosting his radio show ‘Poemas y Cantares’ for La Señal de Jojutla at the time of the attack. He died on his way to hospital.
In the wake of these murders and the impunity for attacks on journalists, media outlets such as Norte de Ciudad Juárez have begun closing their doors. Meanwhile several journalists have fled, fearing for their lives. PEN calls upon the Mexican authorities to conduct full and prompt investigations into the journalists’ murders with the involvement of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE), and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. The authorities must safeguard the nation’s journalists.