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Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Mexico

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2004
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Mexico, February 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c566af2.html [accessed 22 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

While the Mexican press was able to report more freely about government corruption, an increase in criminal defamation charges and government pressure on journalists to reveal their sources cast a pall over the media in 2003.

As President Vicente Fox hit the halfway point of his six-year presidency, his chances of transforming the country were slipping away, and with it, the nation's optimism. On June 12, however, Mexico took a step toward curbing official corruption when the Federal Law on Transparency and Access to Public Information came into effect, opening the government's closely guarded secrets to public scrutiny.

The law allows any citizen to request information about public officials' salaries, government contracts, internal reports, and the use of public money. Government organizations must comply within 30 days, and officials who refuse to provide information can lose their jobs or face fines and criminal charges. If officials deny an information request, the legislation grants the public the right to appeal to the Federal Institute of Access to Public Information, an agency responsible for dealing with problems surrounding such requests. If that appeal is lost, citizens can take the case to court.

But according to the law, each federal branch can withhold requested information for up to 12 years for reasons of national, trade, industrial, or financial security. The law also restricts public access to records pertaining to ongoing judicial proceedings and criminal investigations.

Though the law is perceived as an important step in Mexico's path to a more open democracy, local journalists warned that the process of shedding light on government activities will be a long one. In August, during a visit to Mexico, Eduardo Bertoni, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' special rapporteur for freedom of expression, noted that laws on access to public information had not been enacted in various states, even though the bills had been introduced in the local legislatures.

A few short detentions in 2003 highlighted the pressure that Mexican journalists continue to face from the application of criminal defamation laws. Isabel Arvide, a Mexico City-based journalist and author who has written many exposés about drug traffickers, corruption, and violence, as well as the book Muerte en Juárez (Death in Juarez), was detained on March 4 in Chihuahua City. Chihuahua State Attorney General Jesús Solís Silva charged her with criminal defamation, and Arvide spent about 24 hours in jail at Chihuahua's Social Rehabilitation Center before being released March 5 on bail. Arvide, whose trial was ongoing at press time, is required to appear every two weeks in Chihuahua City before Judge Octavio Rodríguez Gaytán, of the Second Penal Court, in connection with another criminal defamation complaint filed against her in 2002. (That case was also ongoing at year's end.)

Attorney General Solís' charges stemmed from a June 2, 2001, article by Arvide that appeared on the journalist's Web site and in the Mexico City daily Milenio. The piece alleged that a number of state government officials, including Solís and newspaper publisher Osvaldo Rodríguez Borunda, had organized a new drug cartel in Chihuahua.

On August 26, Francisco Barradas, director of the biweekly magazine Bi, was detained for five hours at Cieneguillas Prison in Zacatecas State. He was charged with libeling local city council trustee Rafael Medina Briones before being released on bail. The charges stemmed from an article that Barradas published in July 2002 when he was editor of the daily Imagen. In the article, the journalist alleged that Medina Briones had been seen on the roof of a house stealing water from a neighbor's tank. Medina Briones said the information was false. Barradas was required to register every eight days in Zacatecas City before Judge Miguel Luis Ruiz Roble of the Fourth Criminal Court. On November 25, a superior court dismissed the charges against the journalist.

Government officials pressured several journalists to reveal their sources in 2003. In one prominent case, on September 4, federal police agents went to the offices of the Mexico City daily La Jornada to speak with reporter Gustavo Carrillo García about his sources for a June 19 article about drug trafficking. On September 5, the Attorney General's Office ordered an investigation to determine if the agents were attempting to harass the journalist. As a result of this incident and others, on November 28, Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha issued an order to his employees to respect the anonymity of journalists' sources in court proceedings.

Almost five years after the murder of U.S. journalist Philip True, two people who defended a pair of Huichol Indians accused in the case said they now believe that the men are guilty. In late November, both the private investigator who worked to win their release and the U.S. citizen who funded portions of their defense said the two men, Juan Chivarra de la Cruz and his brother-in-law Miguel Hernández de la Cruz, privately confessed to killing True and should be brought to justice. At year's end, the legal impact of these new developments remained unclear.

True, the San Antonio Express-News Mexico City bureau chief, was killed in December 1998 while working on a story about the Huichol Indians, an indigenous population that lives in a mountainous area stretching across Jalisco, Nayarit, and Durango states. Police arrested Chivarra and Hernández shortly after the murder, but a municipal judge released them in August 2001. In February 2003, a federal court overturned a later appellate court sentence of 13 years. Chivarra and Hernández are now free pending a ruling by the Jalisco State Supreme Court.


2003 Documented Cases – Mexico

MARCH 4, 2003

Isabel Arvide, freelance
LEGAL ACTION

Freelance journalist Arvide was charged with criminal defamation by Chihuahua State Attorney General Jesús Solís Silva and detained for 24 hours.

Arvide, a Mexico City­based journalist and author who has written many exposés about drug traffickers, corruption, and violence, as well as the book Muerte en Juárez (Death in Juárez), was detained at around 5 p.m. in Chihuahua City, where she is required to appear every two weeks before Judge Octavio Rodríguez Gaytán, of the 2nd Penal Court, in connection with another criminal defamation complaint filed against her, in 2002.

According to Arvide's son Bruno Cárcamo Arvide, the journalist was never notified that Solís had filed a suit against her. She had just finished eating at a local restaurant before leaving for the airport when about 20 Chihuahua State police officers arrested her.

Isabel Arvide told CPJ that she spent about 24 hours isolated in a cell at Chihuahua's Social Rehabilitation Center before being released on a 200,000 Mexican pesos (around US$20,000) bail at around 7 p.m. on March 5. Arvide then flew to Mexico City. She was told she must appear in court in Chihuahua on March 7 so that her detention order and her release on bail could be formally announced. Under Mexico's Criminal Code, Arvide faces six months to two years in prison if convicted.

Attorney General Solís' suit, which was filed on December 23, 2002, stems from a June 2, 2001, article by Arvide that appeared on the journalist's Web site, www.isabelarvide.com, and in the Mexico City edition of the daily Milenio. The piece alleged that a number of state government officials, including Solís and newspaper publisher Osvaldo Rodríguez Borunda, had organized a new drug cartel in Chihuahua.

This is the second time that Arvide has been detained for criminal defamation. In August 2002, Chihuahua State police arrested Arvide after Rodríguez Borunda, owner of the Chihuahua dailies El Diario de Chihuahua and El Diario de Juárez, filed a criminal defamation suit against her in connection to the June 2001 article. Rodríguez Borunda requested 50 million pesos (US$5 million) in "moral damages." Arvide was released more than 24 hours later, after paying a 100,000 Mexican pesos (US$10,000) bail. She must appear before Judge Rodríguez Gaytán every 15 days and sign a court record while her trial continues.

Arvide, who needs judicial authorization to leave the country, must make frequent trips to Chihuahua. Travel costs and high legal expenses strained her resources and hampered her journalistic work. In December 2002, Judge Rodríguez Gaytán rejected an injunction she filed in August 2002 against the arrest warrant and the detention order against her.

Arvide filed an appeal at the end of December, and on February 20, 2003, a federal judge annulled her detention order and ordered Judge Rodríguez Gaytán to review his ruling. On March 4, hours before her second arrest, she was informed that Judge Rodríguez Gaytán had upheld her detention order. Arvide plans to file a second appeal.

The journalist fears that she may be jailed at any moment since the Chihuahua State Attorney General's Office has asked that her bail be revoked because she is a repeat offender.

MAY 12, 2004
Posted: June 3, 2004

Manuel de la Cruz, Cimacnoticias and W Radio
ATTACKED

De la Cruz, correspondent for the news agency Cimacnoticias and W Radio in the city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, in the southeastern state of Chiapas, was robbed and beaten by police. The journalist, who frequently covers drug trafficking and human rights issues in the region, believes that the attack was related to his work.

At around 1:30 a.m., as de la Cruz was leaving his girlfriend's home, two plainclothes officers detained him. After he identified himself as a journalist, the police officers laughed at him and insulted him, the Mexican press reported.

After stealing the journalist's money from his wallet, the two police officers beat de la Cruz. Five other agents on duty joined their colleagues in attacking the journalist. They later took him to a nearby park, where they met another 20 police officers. One of the officers, called Commander Medina by the others, attempted to sexually abuse him, de la Cruz said.

When de la Cruz resisted, he was beaten again and sprayed in the face with tear gas. An officer who identified himself as Enrique Àngel Ocaña told the journalist that he had a report accusing de la Cruz of defying police authority and assaulting the police. According to local press reports, the same officer later freed him.

De la Cruz told CPJ that the police never explained why they attacked him. Beatriz Jiménez, a reporter for Cimacnoticias in Mexico City, said the attack could have been motivated by de la Cruz's coverage of drug-related issues and of the illegal smuggling of immigrants across the Mexican-Guatemalan border.

Following the attack, de la Cruz filed criminal charges against the police officers with the Attorney General's Office in Chiapas, as well as a complaint with the State Commission on Human Rights. On May 21, a judge ordered the arrest of four police officers accused of beating de la Cruz and said he will continue to investigate other officers who participated in the attack.

Copyright notice: © Committee to Protect Journalists. All rights reserved. Articles may be reproduced only with permission from CPJ.

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