Are Journalists & Activists Safe Anywhere in Mexico? Protests Erupt over Killing of 5 in Mexico City

August 04, 2015
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Guests

Sebastián Aguirre

program officer of the Program for the Protection and Security of Journalists at the human rights organization Article 19.

Laura Carlsen

director of the Mexico City-based Americas Program of the Center for International Policy.

Andalusia Knoll

a freelance journalist who has been reporting on social movements and human rights violations in Mexico for five years. She’s a contributor to Democracy Now! and AJ+.

In Mexico City, thousands of protesters are continuing to denounce the murder of photojournalist Rubén Espinosa. Espinosa, who worked for the leading newsmagazine Proceso, was killed by gunmen alongside human rights activist Nadia Vera and three other women in an apartment in Mexico City Friday. Both Espinosa and Vera had been working in the southern state of Veracruz, which has seen increasingly deadly violence against journalists and activists. According to human rights groups, Espinosa’s murder signals a new level of violence against Mexican journalists, as he may be the first to be killed while in exile in Mexico City. We go to Mexico City to speak with Sebastián Aguirre of the human rights organization Article 19 and Laura Carlsen of the Center for International Policy. We also speak to Andalusia Knoll, a freelance journalist who has been reporting on social movements and human rights violations in Mexico for five years.


TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In Mexico City, thousands of protesters are continuing to denounce the murder of photojournalist Rubén Espinosa. Espinosa, who worked for the leading newsmagazine, Proceso, was killed by gunmen alongside human rights activist Nadia Vera and three other women in an apartment in Mexico City on Friday. Both Espinosa and Vera had been working in the southern state of Veracruz, which has seen increasingly deadly violence against journalists and activists. According to human rights groups, Espinosa’s murder signals a new level of violence against Mexican journalists, as he may be the first to be killed while in exile in Mexico City. In his final interview, he told the outlet Rompeviento about his exile.

RUBÉN ESPINOSA: [translated] I had to leave due to intimidation, not because of a direct threat, per se, but out of common sense. There had just been an attack on students, who were brutally beaten with machetes and everything, and so we cannot, in this situation, do less, with any kind of threat or intimidation, because we do not know what will happen. In Veracruz, there is no rule of law.

AMY GOODMAN: Rubén Espinosa is at least the 12th journalist who has worked in Veracruz to be killed since 2011.

For more, we go to Mexico City, where we’re joined by two guests. Sebastián Aguirre is with the human rights group Article 19 and helps run its Program for the Protection and Security of Journalists. We’re also joined by Laura Carlsen, director of the Mexico City-based Americas Program of the Center for International Policy.

Here in New York, we’re joined by Andalusia Knoll, freelance journalist who has been reporting on social movements and human rights violations in Mexico for five years. She spoke to Rubén Espinosa last week, right before he was killed.

I want to start in Mexico City with Sebastián. You helped to get Rubén Espinosa to Mexico City to be in exile from the violence and the threats against him in Veracruz. Can you tell us what you understand happened?

SEBASTIÁN AGUIRRE: Right. Well, the case of Rubén, you’ve got to understand it in the general context of violence that happens in Veracruz against the press. Just 14 journalists have been murdered since 2010, and there’s been absolute impunity in all of those cases. So, the founded fear of Rubén was certain that he had a legitimate threat against him, therefore he had to move out of Veracruz. We helped him, when he established in Mexico City, and we tried to encourage him to enter the federal mechanism of protection for human rights defenders and journalists. But there is—you’ve got to understand that there’s also mistrust from the public towards the institutions. In Mexico, there’s a lot of mistrust in the capacity and the way that journalists are going to be protected, so a lot of journalists are not trusting the institutions that could actually protect them. And that was the case of Rubén.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Laura Carlsen, it’s not only Ruben who was killed. Can you talk about the four women who were murdered with him, and who it’s believed killed them?

LAURA CARLSEN: That’s right. It’s very important to keep that in mind, because, of course, the question of the attack on freedom of expression in the case of the photojournalist, Rubén Espinosa, is very important, but Nadia Vera was a human rights defender in Veracruz. She worked with Yosoy 132, the student organization there, and she also had experienced threats and attacks on her. In fact, just eight months before her assassination, she videotaped a message, as well, that said, "I hold responsible the governor of the state of Veracruz, Javier Duarte, for anything that could happen to me and my family." She had reason to believe that she was under threat, and now she’s been assassinated, as well.

We also know the name of one other woman, Yesenia Quiroz, and there are two other women whose names either are unknown or have not been released. But this is very important to take into account. The Front for Freedom of Expression is calling for the investigation to include the possibility that we’re looking at crimes of femicide, because there is some indication that the assassinations were accompanied by rape and sexual torture of the women, and to also include the fact that we’re looking at attacks not only on a journalist, but on a woman human rights defender.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let’s turn to a clip of the human rights activist, Nadia Vera. She was speaking to the outlet Rompeviento.

NADIA VERA: [translated] How many journalists have been assassinated without anything happening? How many students? How many activists? How many human rights defenders have been assassinated or disappeared? We have an impressively high level of disappearances, right? But it also has to do with the type of characters we have governing.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Nadia Vera speaking to Rompeviento. So, Laura Carlsen, could you give us some context here? Why is Veracruz such a dangerous place for journalists and for human rights activists? And what do you think is likely to happen now, given these awful murders in Mexico City of the four women as well as the journalist?

LAURA CARLSEN: Well, it is recognized as one of the most violent places in the country, and this has happened because there have been a series of crimes. The attitude of the governor—there have even been public declarations on his part, warning journalists, in effect. There’s an attitude that "I rule here, and I will not tolerate any kind of criticism or protest." Rubén Espinosa covered movements and covered his government coming in to repress many of those movements, often in a violent way. This, of course, affected his image, and apparently affected his personal ego, as well. And the main context here that you have is impunity, the absolute dysfunction in the system of justice. Once you send out a message that you can kill, a governor or a government in—which, by all indications, seemed to be involved in many of these killings—they’re the prime suspect—you send out a message that this can be done with impunity, then you’ve created a situation in which everyone—a human rights defender, a journalist, everyone who protests against that government—is in—is under threat.

There have been reports of surveillance. Rubén reported that he was under surveillance. And what’s really scary for many of us here in Mexico City now is that Mexico City was considered a haven. It was considered a refuge for people under threat. And the fact that he apparently, or at least possibly, was hunted down here in Mexico City and murdered in what’s considered a peaceful neighborhood within the nation’s capital, it shatters that, perhaps, myth of security that many of us had here.

So, we don’t know what will happen next. Of course, there’s a demand for a full investigation that takes into account all the possibilities here. There’s a lot of fear that the government will try to sweep this under the rug. There’s already talk that, "Oh, this was a robbery." Well, there aren’t these kinds of robberies, and there’s too many so-called coincidences in terms of the previous threats. And there’s talk that since he was unemployed, it isn’t related to his work as a journalist. But there will be a constant pressure from civil society to make sure that these political factors are given primary importance in the investigation and that the investigation goes as high up as it needs to go in terms of responsibilities.

AMY GOODMAN: Andalusia Knoll, I want to bring into the conversation. Andalusia, you chatted with Rubén Espinosa on Facebook right before he was killed. What did you talk about?

ANDALUSIA KNOLL: Yes. Actually, I have been reporting on the journalists, on the danger that they face in Veracruz, for the past three years. I traveled there a few years ago, and I met journalists that were just like myself, young journalists covering social movements, some covering drug trafficking, and they were—you know, I realized they were at—their lives were at risk. And so I started reporting on the situation. And then, this year, when Moisés Sánchez was killed, I started working on a documentary for Al Jazeera Plus and had just traveled to Veracruz to work on this documentary.

And then, right as our documentary was about to come out, I saw that Rubén Espinosa was in exile in Mexico City, and he is a friend of many of my friends. In Mexico, it’s so dangerous to be a journalist that we build networks, so we could support each other and be more secure. And so, he was friends of friends, and I reached out to him. And we talked about the documentary, and I said, "Thanks for sharing it." He said, "No, thanks to you for making it." And I said, "I don’t think we’ve ever met, right? We just have lots of friends in common." He said, "No, but I hope we meet. You know, being in this, it’s so difficult, and that this is where we need more solidarity from people." And we had made plans to hang out, you know, when I got back. And then, a day later, he was assassinated, with four other women.

I mean, this is—it leaves all of us in shock, that it’s not just journalists, it’s not just activists. This is anyone. Every single person I know in Mexico now feels so vulnerable that any dissenting voice can let you be killed.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to your documentary, Andalusia Knoll, made for AJ+. It starts with Jorge Sánchez, the son of Moisés Sánchez, the journalist, Moisés found decapitated earlier this year after reporting on corruption and violence in Veracruz for the weekly newspaper, La Unión. In this clip, we also hear from journalist Felix Marquez in a moment after this. It starts, though, with Moisés’ son, Jorge Sánchez.

JORGE SÁNCHEZ: [translated] I’m Jorge Sánchez, son of Moisés Sánchez, the journalist who was assassinated on January 2nd, 2015. From a young age, he was interested in social activism as a way to inform the people. He used all the tools within his reach, one of which was the newspaper, La Unión.

MOISÉS SÁNCHEZ: [translated] News from the town hall of Medellín, here in the informative weekly, La Unión.

FELIX MARQUEZ: [translated] La Unión was created by Moisés Sánchez to share the stories that were not being published by the media outlets that are co-opted by the system. This is the kind of journalism that should exist, the ideal journalism, journalism that is connected to the people. We use the newspaper like a flag to spread the stories. I don’t think any of us studied journalism to cover the deaths of our colleagues. My idea is to do a series, to take the belongings of the journalists who have been assassinated and revive the essence of each of them, to search for the items that represent them, in this case Moisés Sánchez.

JORGE SÁNCHEZ: [translated] We have a loudspeaker that he used to use, a little one. We still have it here, the one that he brought to demonstrations. That’s what my father used to do, expose the corrupt acts of the police.

FELIX MARQUEZ: [translated] He would present evidence that the authorities of Medellín de Bravo weren’t doing their jobs well. There were various political personalities who didn’t like that.

JORGE SÁNCHEZ: [translated] He had been warned that the mayor was planning to scare him.

FELIX MARQUEZ: [translated] Moisés was kidnapped at night, right in front of his family, and then was assassinated.

JORGE SÁNCHEZ: [translated] According to his lawyer, the mayor has left the state. And there are many irregularities in the investigation. These are the same anomalies that exist in all of the investigations of journalists’ murders. The authorities don’t investigate. They don’t do their job. After this happened, the government brought these security agents, but it feels weird, because they’re the ones who didn’t do anything when they took my father away, and now the police are the ones taking care of us. One would think that the other people are the ones who should be locked away, not us. But this is how things work here. The criminals roam free, and we are the ones that have to be locked up.

FELIX MARQUEZ: [translated] Most people normally work to live. And here in Veracruz, it seems like the journalists are working to die.

JORGE SÁNCHEZ: [translated] If they have already told you that they are going to kill you, why do you keep on publishing? And he used to always say to us, "We can’t live with fear. If we live with fear, things are never going to change."

FELIX MARQUEZ: [translated] His family has been very active in demanding justice and punishment for those who are responsible.

JORGE SÁNCHEZ: [translated] In Veracruz, it is dangerous to tell the truth. I know that they are going to kill me. It is very clear. But the other option is to stay silent, and the situation will just repeat itself.

FELIX MARQUEZ: [translated] The struggle we must wage is behind the cameras, behind the pens. It is to inform society, our only boss, with the truth.

AMY GOODMAN: That was photojournalist Felix Marquez and, before that, Jorge Sánchez, the son of Moisés Sánchez, who was found decapitated earlier this year after reporting on corruption and violence in Veracruz for his weekly newspaper, La Unión. It was produced by our guest today, the independent journalist Andalusia Knoll. Sebastián Aguirre, you’re with Article 19, part of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights that guarantees free press, freedom of expression. What are you demanding now in Mexico? What are you demanding of the president? And do you feel that he bears any responsibility here, President Peña Nieto?

SEBASTIÁN AGUIRRE: Well, there is definitely a response—our demands are very clear. It’s basically, do investigation of all aggressions against journalists all over the country, because it’s not only Veracruz. We can talk about Guerrero. We can talk about Oaxaca. We’ve documented seven murders just this year. And this year was an election year, so just imagine, when we are supposed, as a country, to practice democracy, we’re seeing such high violence against the press. So, our demands are quite clear: a full investigation to all aggressions against journalists. We have a special prosecutor—a prosecution for crimes against freedom of expression, which they have presented no results in the—ever. Not so ever. I wanted to say a day, but they haven’t presented any results of the murders of Moisés Sánchez, of the murders of Regina Martínez in Veracruz, as well. She used to be a colleague with Rubén in the Proceso magazine. So, our demands are quite clear: We want a full investigation. And I think, yeah, there is a responsibility from all parts of the government, the federal, the state and the municipal government, for the systematic impunity of crimes against human rights defenders and crimes against journalists. We can actually talk about a systematic impunity, because in Article 19, we documented 88 cases since 2000, and none of them have ended up in trial.

AMY GOODMAN: Sebastián, we’re going to have to leave it there, but of course we will continue to cover this. Sebastián Aguirre with Article 19; Laura Carlsen, Center for International Policy; and Andalusia Knoll, independent journalist. We will link to her piece at AJ+.

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