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Jan. 26, 2022, 2:36 p.m.
Reporting & Production

“To kill a journalist in Mexico is like killing no one”: Journalists in 40 Mexican cities protest following three murders

“Every time a journalist is killed, it silences the issue they were investigating.”

To be a journalist in Mexico right now is to put your life at risk, not just for covering sensitive issues, but while also working through poor labor conditions. Journalists in 40 Mexican cities protested on Tuesday evening not just for three colleagues who were killed this month, but to bring attention to the grave danger that journalism suffers in Mexico, where 148 journalists have been killed since 2000, making it the deadliest country in the Western Hemisphere in which to practice journalism, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Of those 148, 28 journalists have been killed since President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office in December 2018, according to Articulo 19, an independent organization in Mexico and Central America that advocates for freedom of expression and information. For context, 47 journalists were killed between 2012 and 2018 under former president Enrique Peña Nieto. Mexican presidents serve one six-year term.

On January 23, journalist Lourdes Maldonado was found dead in her car just outside of her home in Tijuana, Baja California, days after attending a vigil and protest against the murder of freelance photojournalist Margarito Martínez, who was shot on January 17 in Tijuana. Martínez’s murder followed the fatal stabbing of reporter José Luis Gamboa in the state of Veracruz on January 10. In all three cases, the journalists covered crime and corruption in their states.

Maldonado, specifically, had just won a nine-year legal battle over unpaid wages and unfair dismissal against former Baja California governor Jaime Bonilla, who has ties to Primer Sistema de Noticias, the news channel that Maldonado used to work for. She had requested help and safety measures from a government agency that’s supposed to protect human rights activists and journalists at the state and federal levels.

Protest for journalists’ safety outside of Mexico’s Department of the Interior building in Mexico City. Photo courtesy of Yuri Ávila.

At several of the protests, journalists and free press advocates lit candles and brought photos and posters of journalists killed in Mexico in recent years. In the capital, Mexico City, the protest assembled on the steps of the Department of the Interior building, the government agency charged with handling domestic affairs. They projected photos of slain journalists on the exterior of the building, waiting for the federal officials to hear their concerns that never arrived, according to independent news outlet Animal Politico.

Journalists chanted “No se mata la verdad” (“You can’t kill the truth”) and shared personal stories of harassment, violence, fear, and stories about colleagues whose murders remain unsolved and unpunished. During at least two protests — one in Mexico City and one in the Southern state of Chiapas — journalists read out a statement outlining and reprimanding the government’s inaction to a longstanding problem.

Here’s the speech (translated from Spanish by me):

To kill a journalist in Mexico is like killing no one. Far from serious investigations being carried out by state and federal prosecutors, from knowing why journalists are killed in this country and from justice, [instead] the [number] is on the rise. In Mexico, state violence — that includes organized crime, colluded by governments at different levels — has caused zones of silence where there are no conditions to carry out our work. They have murdered, disappeared, threatened, and forced journalists to leave their [cities and homes]. In a [femicide state] like Mexico, where 11 women are murdered every day, the murder of a female journalist should challenge us and mortify us at the social level as it touches the most sensitive fibers of a place where the social fabric has been torn.

During 2021, the Center for Communication and Information on Women (CIMAC) documented that every 38 hours, a woman journalist is subject to some type of violence for her work. Cases like that of Lourdes Maldonado, who notified the federal and state entities [responsible for protecting journalists], who feared for her life, highlight not only the limited capacity of states to react promptly, effectively, and expeditiously, and to incorporate needs and different contexts, but they also make visible the lack of a comprehensive protection. Adding to the insecurity and the lack of resolution of the murders of fellow journalists, there is job insecurity and journalists earning very poor salaries, for days that never end.

Lourdes Maldonado attended the [president’s ]morning conference in March 2019 to request from López Obrador help for a labor lawsuit, that she recently won [in 2021] against former Baja California Governor Jaime Bonilla. She could barely celebrate this triumph when, in a cowardly act, she was killed. In Mexico, we do not have the conditions to carry out our informative work on a day-to-day basis due to the terrible working conditions and exploitation we are subjected to. And on top of that we do not have the security conditions that allow us not to die trying when it comes to informing the population.

On Wednesday, López Obrador said at his daily morning press conference that the corresponding agencies will investigate Maldonado’s case but cautioned against jumping to a conclusion that Bonilla, a member of López Obrador’s political party Morena, was involved. “There is no impunity, but at the same time let’s not engage in politicking on such a serious issue,” he said.

“Every time a journalist is killed, it silences the issue they were investigating,” Mexican journalist and 2017 Nieman Fellow Marcela Turati tweeted. “Don’t wait until they kill the journalist you follow, the photographer who best captures a news event, a columnist that keeps you updated, to join the movement in defense of your freedom to inform yourself.”

You can see photos from protests across Mexico in a Twitter thread here.

Protest posters for journalists’ safety outside of Mexico’s National Palace in Mexico City. Photo courtesy of Daniel Ojeda

POSTED     Jan. 26, 2022, 2:36 p.m.
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