court in The Hague wants to investigate the murders of journalists | Latin America | DW


In his last column for the Mexican regional newspaper Rater, Miguel Angel Lopez Velasco has written on femicide, nepotism and contaminated drinking water.

Lopez Velasco, who was the deputy director of the Veracruz-based media outlet using the pseudonym “Milo Vera,” said authorities promised to fix the issues. “And if not,” he wrote, “we’ll remind them here.”

It never got there. Hours later, the 55-year-old man died.

In the early hours of June 20, 2011, his murderers went to the journalist’s home under cover of darkness while he was sleeping, smashed down the front door and shot him and his wife, Agustina, dead. and their youngest son, Miseal. They fired over 400 bullets.

Lopez Velasco, a respected journalist, knew the state of Veracruz like the back of his hand

Police, stationed just a block away, did not even send a patrol car. Ten years later, prosecutors still haven’t found the perpetrators and a clear motive. Lopez Velasco’s two elders went into exile for fear of their lives.

“More than 90% get away with murder”

The murderers destroyed a family and got rid of another critical voice in Mexico. “In more than 90% of cases, they can expect to get by,” said Balbina Flores, Mexican representative of Reporters Without Borders.

Now, however, the case is going to court, at least symbolically: the Permanent People’s Court will hold a public hearing on November 2 into press freedom violations around the world.

The murders of three journalists in particular will be on the agenda: those of Lopez Velasco, Lasantha Wickrematunge of Sri Lanka and Nabil al-Sharbaji of Syria. The tribunal does not have the power to convict anyone, but it can at least raise awareness and pressure governments to protect journalists.

“Hold states accountable for their failures”

The tribunal was established by Reporters Without Borders, Free Press Unlimited (FPU) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). “This public forum is a chance to hold states accountable for their failure to bring perpetrators to justice,” said Natalie Southwick, CPJ’s Latin America and the Caribbean program coordinator.

“These efforts are particularly important in Latin America, where the vast majority of journalist killers never go to justice, and particularly in Mexico, the hemisphere’s deadliest country for the press.”

It is part of a series of actions by which journalists around the world hope to draw attention to the dangers to themselves and to press freedom. Another example is the association Forbidden Stories Project, which supports journalists who continue investigations opened by colleagues who have been murdered, imprisoned or threatened.

The aim is to show those who order or carry out the killings that retaliation against journalists is not an effective way to prevent unpleasant truths from being revealed. Its slogan: Killing the journalist will not kill the story.

Velasco’s death a wake-up call

The death of Lopez Velasco, an experienced and respected journalist who knew the Mexican state of Veracruz like the back of his hand, was a wake-up call. His assassination was the “prelude to a whole series of murdered journalists” in the state, said Balbina Flores.

One of these journalists was Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz, a colleague of Lopez Velasco from Rater, who had criticized the slow progress of authorities in the murder investigation shortly before she herself was killed in July 2011. Another was Regina Martinez Perez, correspondent for the prestigious national weekly Proceso, who was killed in 2012.

Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz

Ordaz de la Cruz killed after criticizing the slowness of the investigation into the murder of her colleague

At the time, Veracruz was Mexico’s most dangerous state for journalists. The governor was Javier Duarte de Ochoa of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). During his tenure from 2010 to 2016, 17 journalists were murdered; three have disappeared without a trace. Duarte maintained a blacklist of journalists whom he and his influential predecessor and mentor Fidel Herrera Beltran disapproved of; these journalists have been spied on.

After Lopez Velasco’s assassination, regional prosecutors, who were responding to Duarte, put forward the theory that a local drug lord, El Naca, was involved. They then dropped the deal.

In 2018, Duarte was charged with corruption and sentenced to nine years in prison.

Mechanism to protect journalists too slow

In 2012, under pressure from human rights activists, the Mexican Congress passed a law to protect journalists and activists at risk. According to Flores of Reporters Without Borders, more than 1,500 Mexicans, including 500 journalists, have used it.

But she said the protection mechanism was still too bureaucratic and slow. “By law, authorities are supposed to respond to a call for help within 12 hours by providing a panic button, regular police patrols, bodyguards or, in the most extreme cases, a house. In practice, however, it can take two weeks, ”she said.

When Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador became president in December 2018, he promised dramatic changes to security policy, but little has changed. According to official figures, 43 journalists and 69 activists have been killed since coming to power.

“In most cases there had been death threats before,” Flores said. “Of the seven journalists killed this year, two requested protective measures, but these came too late.

She said a reform of the law, developed in cooperation with journalists’ organizations, was currently pending in Congress and the protection agency’s budget had not been increased. “The issue is not a priority on the political agenda,” she said.

This article was translated from German

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