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Watchdog: Attacks on journalists in Mexico threaten press freedom

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Attacks on Mexican journalists threaten freedom of expression, a new report says
  • Impunity is a major problem, says the Committee to Protect Journalists
  • The organization asks Mexican President Calderon to do more to protect reporters

(CNN) -- Violence against journalists in Mexico continues with impunity and has resulted in self-censorship that threatens Mexicans' right of freedom of expression, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a report released Wednesday.

The organization found "systemic failures that if left unaddressed will further erode freedom of expression and the rule of law. Vital national and international interests are at stake."

Mexican President Felipe Calderon should use his influence to ensure that federal and state officials examine these crimes fully, CPJ recommended. It also asked the president to federalize crimes against freedom of expression and to use his full power to ensure that all Mexicans, including reporters, have their freedoms protected.

Twenty-two journalists have been killed since Calderon took office in December 2006. At least eight of those were killed in direct reprisal for reporting on crime and corruption, the report states. At least seven other journalists have gone missing, CPJ said.

Three media support workers have also been killed, the organization said. In addition, dozens of journalists have been attacked, kidnapped, or forced into exile, the report states.

"Violence against the press has swept the nation and destroyed Mexicans' right to freedom of expression. This national crisis demands a full-scale federal response," the report says.

CPJ singles out systematic impunity as something that has become common at the state and local level, where most anti-press crimes are investigated. It points out that less than 10 percent of press-related crimes have been successfully prosecuted over the last decade.

"In case after case, CPJ has found negligent work by state prosecutors and police. Authorities have used unlawful methods, including coercion of witnesses and fabrication of evidence, on several occasions," the report states.

As one example, the report highlights the story of Bladimir Antuna Garcia, a top crime reporter in the city of Durango. Many of his stories were exclusives that showed he had good sources within the army and police.

In late 2008, he began receiving threatening phone calls, including some from individuals identifying themselves as members of the Zetas drug cartel, CPJ reported. In April 2009, someone opened fire on his house.

According to CPJ's investigation, Antuna reported the threats and filed a report with the state attorney general's office, but no action was taken.

Finally, in November 2009, Antuna was pulled from his vehicle by five men with assault rifles. His body was found 12 hours later with signs of torture, CPJ said.

Besides a few cursory interviews, his killing remains largely uninvestigated, local reporters told CPJ. As a result, crime reporting has nearly ceased in the city.

In addition to authorities, journalists themselves must do more to unite around this effort, CPJ concluded.

"Reporters and editors have been corrupted by the same drug cartels that have infiltrated nearly every sector of society," the report states. "And Mexico's polarized media have yet to unify behind a set of principles to protect the nation's journalists."