General outcry: “No more impunity in murders of journalists”

Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Freedom of Expression commits to action after the Inter-American Press Association, the Human Rights Commission and Reporters Without Borders demand Mexican government sound involvement
Special feature photography
22/05/2017
16:52
Astrid Sánchez
Mexico City
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The key to tackle the recent violence surge against Mexican journalists and the media is to nurture ties between the journalism guild and authorities, as expressed by Ricardo Sánchez Pérez del Pozo, head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE), in an interview for EL UNIVERSAL.

Sánchez Pérez del Pozo was appointed only last May 10, three days before he was notified that a group of national and foreign correspondents were withheld by alleged drug dealers in the vicinity of Acapetlahuaya municipality in south eastern state of Guerrero, where they were stripped from all their personal belongings, as well as from video-cameras, photo equipment and tape recorders.

Last Monday, a new attack shocked the journalists guild in the whole of Mexico with the murder of prominent drug journalist Javier Valdez, co-founder of the outlet RíoDoce and contributor to La Jornada national daily. Valdez was shot dead in broad daylight in Culiacán, Sinaloa.

Sánchez Pérez del Pozo recognizes that current investigation, prosecution and attention protocols produced by the Special Prosecutor’s Office are not preventing attacks against journalists. However, he assures that Federal authorities of the executive, judicial and legislative levels are working on policies that contribute to the suppression of the problem.

Six journalists have been slain so far in 2017, while one was shot dead and others withheld in Guerrero in less than a week, what are the protocols lacking in terms of protection to members of the press?

Investigation, prosecution and attention protocols are judicial instruments that strengthen the power of the authority in charge of prosecuting crimes against the freedom of expression with a perspective of respect of human rights, However, these do not prevent the commission of crimes and yet they are used as tools for the prosecutor. Public campaigns and policies must be enforced in order to have a deeper effect in the protection of members of the press in terms of prevention and safeguarding their integrity and to reduce risks of attacks against them.

Prevention is a concern, but so is impunity, as shown by stats of up to 90% of impunity in the prosecution of these crimes. How can outstanding cases be solved?

As we have informed earlier, part of the strategy promoted at this stage by the FEADLE is twofold. First, we have to go through each of the pretrial investigations and investigation files to verify the state of the judicial process, as well as that of the proceedings that have been performed and that are yet to be performed for each case. To this effect ties between the members of the press that have been attacked and Attorney General’s Office must be enhanced so as to have a closer follow up of the investigation.

Secondly, we have to promote the specialized training of all substantive staff to enable the solution of cases involving the aggression to journalists, whether it may be murder, threats, assault, abuse of authority or other. Each of the aggressions is inscribed in a specific penal type that involves a very dynamic penal procedure, which in turn requires specialized training of substantive staff within the contentious justice system, to enable them to be up to the challenge, within reach and tuned with the proceedings involved so as to achieve a successful solution of all cases.

Can the Attorney General’s Office require the media to reveal confidential sources of journalists that have been somehow attacked?

The disclosure of confidential sources should not go against the purpose of the prosecuting investigation. This has to do with both media and authority pursuing a common end, which is the uncovering of facts and guaranteeing access to justice. Very much like the media privileges confidentiality of the source, so does the Attorney General’s Office (PGR). With the correspondent legal support, this office also privileges secrecy of the information received.

In order to reach successful investigation, it is of the utmost importance that both media and the prosecuting authorities work in close collaboration to safeguard the exercise of the journalistic activity and to guarantee freedom of expression.

Is there a special approach to cases in entities with greater incidence such as Veracruz?

We have designed a strategy that includes: joint collaboration and the outline of specific steps according to the problems of each region, as established in the agreements by the National Commission of Governors (CONAGO). Federal competence will result from the investigation of the crime which ha to determine whether the freedom of expression has been violated.

Why is society reluctant to denounce these crimes and how can it be persuaded to report these incidents?

 Society is reluctant as a result of the loss of reliance in government institutions. The strategy we have outlines aims at the recovery of said trust through the implementation of coordinated efforts among the civil society, NGOs and the members of the press. Our goal is to consolidate trust so as to guarantee justice.

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