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Why is the mechanism to protect journalists in Mexico failing?


(CNN Spanish) — The murder of three journalists so far in 2022 once again brings into focus the effectiveness of the protection program for communicators in Mexico, considered one of the deadliest countries in the world to practice journalism. Why has the public policy that seeks to guarantee the protection of journalists not served to prevent these crimes?

“I fear for my life,” those were the words that journalist Lourdes Maldonado López told President Andrés Manuel López Obrador three years ago during a press conference. Last Sunday she was murdered in her car in the city of Tijuana, Baja California, state authorities reported.

Days before, photojournalist Alfonso Margarito Martinez Esquivel had been shot several times outside his home in Tijuana. And a few days before that, José Luis Gamboa, director of the digital media Inforegio, was stabbed in the state of Veracruz.

The murders of these journalists have caused outrage inside and outside the country, and not only in the press. This Tuesday there were demonstrations in Mexico City and other parts of the country to ask the government to protect the lives of journalists and the right to freedom of expression.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ, for its acronym in English) has been since 1992 a global count of attacks on the press and in Mexico registers 138 murders. Article 19, an organization that defends freedom of expression with operations in Mexico and other countries in the region, registers higher figures: 145 journalists killed in connection with their work since 2000.

Both Lourdes Maldonado and Margarito Martínez had requested protection measures against the threats received for the work they were doing, but Martínez had still not been able to enter and Lourdes Maldonado had police patrols for her safety.

The Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists has existed since 2012 in the country at the federal and in six states. According to data from the Ministry of the Interior april 2021, the mechanism welcomes 1,012 people, of which 691 are journalists.

How does this mechanism work?

The Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders was created as a result of a Law that recognizes the right to protect these people and has a governing board in which the Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Relations, the Attorney General’s Office and the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH).

When a journalist faces some risk because of his work, he can request the protection of the mechanism. exist two types of procedures to grant protection: ordinary and extraordinary. In order for the ordinary to be granted, it is necessary to present an application for incorporation. The criterion for determining that an extraordinary process is required is that there is an express declaration that the life and physical integrity of the journalist is in “imminent danger.”

The case reception and rapid reaction unit receives the request and defines whether it is an extraordinary procedure. If so, the unit issues measures based on an evaluation that determines whether prevention, protection or urgent protection measures are taken.

What is failing?

The figure of protection for journalists is overwhelmed by the violence they suffer. Between the lack of resources and the lack of training for those who assess the risk to reporters, many professionals are forced to take refuge far from their homes and silence their work, which is exactly what the aggressors are looking for.

“The violence against the press is not going to end if it is the journalists who have to resort to a shelter or hide,” Pedro Cárdenas Casillas, coordinator of Documentation and Follow-up of cases in the Article 19 Protection area in Mexico, tells CNN. Central America

In addition, the delays for the protection to become effective can extend up to months, according to the Article 19 organization.

“These protection mechanisms almost always work in such a way that a journalist receives an attack, notifies, the mechanism contacts, they ask for certain paperwork to verify their identity, there is a process of incorporation. Measures are scheduled. But this process, although the regulations says it should take a short time, in reality the process can take months,” explains Cárdenas.

Cárdenas warns that a large part of the problem is also the high levels of impunity. “There is no protection mechanism that can only against violence if it is not investigated.”

Journalists demonstrate after the murders of three journalists in Tijuana, in front of the Ministry of the Interior, in Mexico City, on January 25, 2022. (PEDRO PARDO/AFP via Getty Images)

Another flaw has to do with the lack of coordination between mechanisms at the federal and state levels, according to Cárdenas.

“It may be that the federal mechanism perceives a request for support and that the mechanism requests, let’s say, regular appointments at the journalist’s home: every day, every week, etc. However, whether the authorities are municipal, state or federal, or they do not comply with them or they do not coordinate to comply with them, even due to economic issues or lack of resources, they end up failing to comply with them,” he explains.

For Cárdenas, there is a clear message from the authorities that violence against journalists “is permissible and there will be no consequences. In 99% of cases, the person knows that nothing will happen to him if he attacks the press.” “.

After the murder of Lourdes Maldonado, President López Obrador said he ordered a special investigation to find out the causes and those responsible for the murder of the journalist.

“She was here in effect at the beginning of 2019 to file a complaint for a labor matter… A commitment is that there is no impunity, that all these crimes are attended to, investigated and those responsible, the guilty, are found,” he said during a press conference.


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