The federal senate’s 95 members yesterday unanimously passed an amendment to article 73 of the constitution allowing the federal courts and investigators to deal with crimes that threaten the work of journalists and freedom of information. The amendment was already approved by the lower house last November.
The amendment says: “The federal authorities will also be able to try crimes under state jurisdiction when they are linked to federal crimes or when they are crimes against journalists, persons or installations that affect, limit or impinge on the right to information or the freedoms of expression and publication.”
As a result, the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) will now have greater judicial powers. The new Special Prosecutor, Laura Angelina Borbolla Moreno, received Reporters Without Borders on the eve of yesterday’s senate vote.
“We hail the act of awareness and political will that this amendment symbolizes,” Reporters Without Borders said. “But it has taken three years of debates to arrive at its adoption at the federal level and its implementation still depends on its approval by at least 17 of Mexico’s 32 states. The next phase will be a test for the local authorities, who are often involved in violence against journalists and news organizations.
“This belated reform does not in any way compensate for the 80 journalists killed and 14 missing in the past decade, a toll exacerbated during the current – and soon to end – presidential term by a federal offensive against drug trafficking that has left more than 50,000 dead. Will justice be rendered after so many years of impunity and suffering? The new federal government that is elected in July should not forget this duty. One way will be to make more investigative resources available to the FEADLE.”
Threats and harassment
Ranked 149th out of 179 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, Mexico still holds the sad status as the western hemisphere’s most dangerous country for the media and there have been more threats and attacks on journalists in the past few weeks.
Six journalists – José de Jesús Cortés of Cadena Tres, Arturo Pérez Alonso of La Jornada, Jesús Cruz of Oaxaca Hoy, Alejandro Villafañe of El Imparcial, Othon García of El Rotativo and Esteban Marcial of Noticias – were attacked by police on 6 March in Santa Cruz Xoxocotlá, in the southern state of Oaxaca, while covering a police operation against villagers involved in a land dispute. The case has prompted heated discussion within the local administration in Oaxaca, where the 2006 murder of US cameraman Brad Will is far from forgotten.
Reporters Without Borders is also concerned about the recent death threats reported by Marco Tulio Castro in Tijuana, a city on the US border. Castro, who edits the Tijuana-based magazine Diez4, told Reporters Without Borders that a dozen messages appeared on 6 March in the comments section of the magazine’s website threatening to “dismember” its reporters.
Castro said he thought the threats could be linked to two recent stories, one on 8 February about a “narcotunnel” under the US border and the other last November about the questionable manner in which immigrants employed by a company called Axiom Ventures were deported from the United States.
Diez4‘s reporters have had to change residence as a result of the threats and have been promised some protection.
Adela Navarro, the editor of the Tijuana-based weekly Zeta, received a telephone threat at the end of February. Her caller identified himself as Melvin Gutiérrez Quiroz, also known as “El Melvin,” a feared contract killer employed by the Arellano Félix Cartel, which she had mentioned in an editorial. In view of the danger, Reporters Without Borders urges the authorities to give her the maximum protection.