Category Archives: Killings

Freedom House Looks at Threats in Mexico

Freedom House, one of the top human rights organizations in the world, has a program helping journalists in Mexico. Below is an introduction and link to a story about that program.

Mexico’s Embattled Journalists: An Interview with Mariclaire Acosta

mctwitterOne of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists is Mexico, where 11 reporters have been murdered since 2014. Mariclaire Acosta directs Freedom House’s program in Mexico City to improve journalists’ professionalism and safety. Acosta, Mexico’s former Deputy Secretary for Human Rights and Democracy, talks here about the interconnected crises of security, press freedom, and accountability.

Full report, click here.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Harassment, Killings, Mexico

Call for more safety measures for journalists

The following item was initially posted at the SPJ International Community site, Journalism and the World.

Roy Greenslade at The guardian published an open letter from the director general of Swedish Radio, Cilla Benkö, calling for the safety of journalists to be taken more seriously by the international community.

He put the whole letter in his latest March 11 column. A portion of that letter is posted below. To see the whole letter and Greenslade’s column, click here.

Cilla Benkö

Enough is enough. Every policy initiative that can be taken to secure the safety of journalists, both here in Sweden and internationally, through bodies such as the UN and the EU, must now be implemented. This is an urgent matter if we want to protect the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression.On Wednesday (9 March), our correspondent, Maria Persson Löfgren, was attacked while on assignment in the Russian state of Ingushetia. On 11 March 2014, our Asia correspondent, Nils Horner, was murdered in Kabul. Two completely unacceptable events.

Both Maria and Nils were engaged in normal assignments for a foreign correspondent. The job is demanding, tough and sometimes associated with danger.

We should be thankful that there are people who want to engage in this kind of journalism, because it’s through them that the rest of us learn about a reality that is often more complicated than those governing in a country would suggest.

The issue of the safety of journalists must be taken more seriously at an international level. Ceasing to cover troubled areas is not an option. In an increasingly digitised world, it is very easy for extremist groups and others to spread their propaganda.

For rest of letter click here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Harassment, International News Coverage, Killings, Press Freedom

Mexican Journalist Kidnapped; War Against Journalists Continues

The latest victim in attacks against journalists in Mexico is Anabel Flores Salazar, a reporter in Veracruz.

Mexican authorities say they are searching for her after reports she was dragged from her home by armed men and hasn’t been seen since.

Salazar was taken Monday morning from her home near the city of Orizaba, where she worked for several newspapers.

Unfortunately, kidnapping and killing journalists is not uncommon in Mexico. Since 2010 15 journalists have been killed in Veracruz alone.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 24 journalists have been killed in Mexico because of their jobs since 2010. A vast majority — 77 percent — of the reporters killed covered the crime beat, just like Salazar.

Threats against journalists come not only from the gangs but also corrupt public officials. The BBC reports there are strained relations between the Veracruz governor and the media. The governor has gone as far as warning journalists to “behave” or bad things might happen to them.

Understandably journalists in the area saw the comment as a veiled threat.

Veracruz prosecutors say they will investigate everything about Salazar to see why she was kidnapped.

The office said a few years ago she was seen with a leader of the local branch of the Zetas drug cartel.

And here in lies the problem.

For reporters to do their job, they have to develop sources across the board. If a cartel leader doesn’t like a story, threats are made and carried out against journalists. Likewise, if a local political figure is identified as being in the hip pocket of a cartel, the journalist receives threats from or is intimidated by the local government.

And then, there are a few bad apples in the journalism profession. Some have used their position as reporter or commentator to extort money from people in exchange for their silence on the air or in print. And because of the few unethical journalists, it becomes easier for governments and gangs to frame honest journalists, because the public is already to accept corruption within the media exists, just as it exists in the rest of society.

And to be clear, the situation described above is not unique to Mexico. Journalists throughout the Western Hemisphere face similar threats from gangs and rogue government officials.

This item was originally posted at Journalism and the World, the site of the International Journalism Community of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Leave a comment

Filed under Corruption, International News Coverage, Killings, Mexico

Mexican media still threatened by gangs

Washington Post reporter Dana Priest has an excellent piece on the threats Mexican journalists face everyday: Censor or die: The death of Mexican news in the age of drug cartels

For anyone who has paid attention to what is going on in Mexico, this is not news, but confirmation that the war against the cartels is not going so well in Mexico.

The Mexican media was just getting out from under the thumb of the oddly named Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)  that ran Mexico for most of its 100+ years. A breakdown in the control PRI had meant journalists could start actually being journalists instead of stenographers for the government.

Then the cartels started gaining strength — with the help of corrupt national and local officials.

Suddenly the threats to free and independent journalism was no longer the loss of a job, but death.

As Priest notes:

Submitting to cartel demands is the only way to survive, said Hildebrando “Brando” Deandar Ayala, 39, editor in chief of El Mañana, one of the oldest and largest newspapers in the region with a print circulation of 30,000. “You do it or you die, and nobody wants to die,” he said. “Auto censura — self-censorship — that’s our shield.”

Just some items from the past 10 years:

In Mexico, as in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the issue is not government censorship but death threats from criminal cartels. The inability of the governments to address the issue speaks volumes about the corruption and weak legal systems in these countries.

To be clear though, it does not mean the governments have a policy of media repression. Too many observers of Latin America see any attacks on journalists — or civic society activists — as being ordered by the local or national government. Unfortunately the threats are essentially from the “private sector” — the cartels. The law enforcement systems in these countries are so weak that the threats against journalists — and civic society activists — either are not investigated or such a weak case is built against the murderers that they go free.

This impunity cartels enjoy can only be stopped if the governments are provided enough support and help to fight back. That is why cutting support to programs that seek to build stronger legal systems is not the way to go. (But tell that to a handful of Congress critters and US-based activists.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Censorship, International News Coverage, Killings, Mexico

Terror in Little Saigon: A ProPublica investigation into journalists murders in the USA

Many thanks to ProPublica for this story that makes it clear there was connections between events in the United States and other countries. (Terror in Little Saigon)

All together, five Vietnamese-American journalists were killed between 1981 and 1990. All worked for small publications serving the refugee population that sought shelter in the U.S. after the fall of Saigon in 1975. At least two other people were murdered as well.

FBI agents came to believe that the journalists’ killings, along with an array of fire-bombings and beatings, were terrorist acts ordered by an organization called the National United Front for the Liberation of Vietnam, a prominent group led by former military commanders from South Vietnam. Agents theorized that the Front was intimidating or executing those who defied it, FBI documents show, and even sometimes those simply sympathetic to the victorious Communists in Vietnam. But the FBI never made a single arrest for the killings or terror crimes, and the case was formally closed two decades ago.

We are all aware that in too many countries journalists are killed for doing journalism. Over and over the phrase “violence against journalists is the ultimate act of censorship.” And yet, so few Americans think this can happen in the States.

ProPublica notes how after the murder of Arizona reporter Don Bolles 1976, a group of 40 or so reporters from around the country continued his reporting on organized crime. The idea was to make a clear statement that freedom of press/expression must be defended. The reporting lead to the conviction of Bolles murder.

The ProPublica report notes the killings of Vietnamese-American journalists in Texas, California and Virginia, arsons stretching from Montreal to Orange County, Calif. and death threats to individuals, families and businesses across the country have yet to be solved. After 30 years the FBI still has not arrested anyone for the violence or terrorism, much less charged and convicted them.

The FBI quietly closed its inquiry in the late 1990s, making it one of the most significant unsolved domestic terror cases in the country.

Forces operate to intimidate journalists around the world. There is no reason to believe the United States is immune from such actions.

Journalists who are part of immigrant communities and who cover those communities especially face dangers US-born journalists may not comprehend. Reporters cannot only be threatened while in the States, but their families in their home country can be threatened. These types of threats are typical of gang operations. Organized crime operations such as MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang have been known to use these tactics against Salvadorans and Hondurans in the United States.

These are stories that are not often told in the United States. Part of the lack of reporting comes from reduced news staffs. But also, part comes from not paying attention to the local immigrant communities.

If local news organizations were more aggressive in reporting about the dynamics within the local immigrant communities, they might see more than quaint festivals from other countries. And along the way, the readers/viewers/listeners to those news organizations would learn more about conditions in other countries and the daily connections to local issues.

Terror in Little Saigon aired on Frontline on PBS Nov. 3

This blog was first posted at the SPJ International Journalism Community site.

Leave a comment

Filed under Connections, Killings

New map on impunity for Mexico and Brazil

Once again proof that all it takes is some encouragement and a few — VERY FEW — bucks to put together a major effort to expose violations of human rights, including freedom of speech and press.

Advocacy groups in Mexico and Brazil map attacks on journalists to counteract threats

The crowd-sourced maps will help journalists know more about the risks they might face as the enter an area before they start “doing journalism.”

The Mexican map — Perriodistas en Riesgo — was created in 2012 and focuses on where journalists are under threat.

According to the Knight Center:

Attacks are divided into four categories: physical, psychological, digital and legal. Each category can then be modified by multiple subcategories. For example, a physical attack could be a kidnapping, beating, disappearance, murder, etc, and one attack, such as a reporter being mugged and having his cellphone and laptop stolen, could be categorized as a physical and a digital attack.

The Brazilian map — Violacoes a Liberdade de Expressao — casts a much wider net. It only started in November 2014 but does look at all forms of violations of freedom of expressions, including attacks on journalists and legal proceedings designed to silence human rights advocates.

The items on the Brazilian site are confirmed by Article 19 before being posted to the site.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Harassment, Killings, Mexico, South America

Another Honduran journalist slain

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports another journalist murder in Honduras: Television station owner gunned down in Honduras.

Carlos Lauria, CPJ senior program coordinator for the Americas has it right:

“Honduras has a disturbing pattern of letting journalists’ murders remain unsolved and unexplained, perpetuating the cycle of impunity. Honduran authorities must launch an immediate and thorough investigation into the murder of Reynaldo Paz Mayes, fully examine all possible motives, and bring those responsible to justice.”

Part of the problem fully investigating the deaths of journalists — and taxi drivers and lawyers and anyone else — is that the Honduran government does not have well-trained law enforcement officers.

Some of that is changing, thanks to the US, Colombia, the EU and other countries. Together these countries are training special squads of police and prosecutors to seriously investigate crimes and to go where the evidence takes them.

Unfortunately, there are still too few of these trained (and vetted) investigators. But the number is growing.

Another problem is the rhetoric once a journalist is killed.

In the case of Paz, he had no background as a journalist. He was a political activist who set up his television station a couple of years ago to air stories and commentaries against the current government of Honduras. (Unlike, US stations, Honduran TV and radio stations are highly partisan.)

Paz received threats for his comments. So when he was killed, the immediate reaction from others also opposed to the Hernandez government was that Paz was killed for his political beliefs.

Juan Ramón Flores, owner of the television station CTV Canal 48 and president of the city chapter of  [the opposition party] LIBRE, told CPJ that Paz had received threats for years in connection with his political beliefs and, most recently, in relation to his on-air criticism of President Juan Orlando Hernández, who he accused of having undue influence over all branches of government. Flores said the most recent threats had been made in anonymous phone calls the week before the shooting. Paz had talked about the threats on his program, Flores said.

Other journalists in Comayagua, where Paz had his station, say they are not convinced he was killed because of his political views.

Without a doubt there are ethical and courageous journalists who have been killed because of their adherence to the idea of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. They thrived on exposing the pandemic corruption in Honduras. They saw their mission as one to let the disinfecting light of truth help clean up Honduran politics and society.

And many of these journalists were killed because of their dedication to their craft.

However, too often many of the journalists killed in the past few years in Honduras may not have been slain because they were journalists but because of other factors in their lives.

The pay really sucks for Honduran journalists, so some have side businesses. Maybe a stall in a weekend market, or maybe a small store. Unfortunately for Honduras, extortion of vendors and merchants is wide-spread. Gangs demand a “war tax” from companies and many market vendors.

Refusal to pay the “war tax” is often enough of an excuse for gangs to kill someone.

In at least one case, the murder may have been a case of mistake identity.

There are also situations that can best be described as “wrong place, wrong time.” A journalist is in a bar or restaurant just as any normal person would be. And maybe, a gang leader is also in the same bar or restaurant, completely unrelated to the journalist being there. Rival gangs have been known to just spray a place with gunfire to get the one gang leader they were looking for. (Thankfully, these types of killings were few and far between. And now seem to have abated completely.)

When threats seem to come to journalist for their political comments, it is often because the journalist is looking into a local political leader who is in the hip pocket of a local narco. So the threat is not based on liberal v. conservative views but rather on the potential damage to a lucrative financial arrangement between a crooked politician and a drug dealer. And then, the murder is handled by the narco, not the politician. (Think of the Mexico situation, where — according to reports — a corrupt mayor handed over 43 students to the local narco.)

Politics has little to do with the threat. It is all about the money and the power.

Complaints by a local media outlet of the overreaching power of the national government are an annoyance, but not one that would lead to the killing of a journalist.

Will we ever know why Paz and most of the other murdered journalists were killed? I doubt it.

Again, because of the poor quality of criminal investigation in the country, we may never be able to get to the whole story about these murders. And if the funding and support for the special investigative units is cut — as many in the US opposed to the current Honduran government argue — we may never know.

The threats to the funding of training and vetting of honest police and prosecutors comes from the very people who scream the loudest about the poor system of justice in Honduras. If the U.S., Colombia and the EU withdraw their funding and training, there is little hope for full and fair investigations and prosecutions of murders.

Leave a comment

Filed under Central America, Corruption, Honduras, Killings