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Formerly abducted Mexican journalist to seek U.S. asylum, lawyer says

By Arthur Brice, CNN
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Mexican photographer seeks asylum
  • The TV cameraman was abducted after covering problems at a prison
  • He was one of four journalists kidnapped after reporting on the prison
  • The abductors wanted information broadcast in exchange for the journalists' safety
  • The journalists escaped or were rescued and taken by authorities to a news conference

(CNN) -- A Mexican TV cameraman abducted in July after reporting on problems at a prison will seek asylum in the United States this week because he fears criminals will kill him, his lawyer told CNN on Tuesday.

Alejandro Hernandez Pacheco, a cameraman for the Televisa Torreon station in the border state of Coahuila, was one of four journalists kidnapped while covering the arrest of a prison warden in neighboring Durango state and a prison riot that followed. The prison director, Margarita Rojas Rodriguez, is accused of letting inmates out at night to commit drug-related slayings.

The abductors wanted to use the journalists, who were connected with some of Mexico's largest news organizations, to force the media to transmit messages alleging corruption by some public officials under the influence of rival drug gangs, Mexican federal Police Commissioner Facundo Rosas Rosas said at a televised news conference in early August.

The journalists escaped or were rescued within days and authorities took them to Mexico City for a highly publicized news conference. As a result, Hernandez's lawyer said Tuesday, his client fears for his life and the well-being of his family.

"The problem is they put him on the radar screen," El Paso, Texas, attorney Carlos Spector said. "Now they're aware he cooperated with the feds. He identified them."

Hernandez entered the United States legally on a 60-day tourist visa, Spector said, and will seek asylum Friday at the Houston, Texas, office of the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services.

Hernandez's wife and two children also will seek asylum, the attorney said.

Spector declined to say where the 38-year-old cameraman is living or to reveal any information about his family.

Mexico has become particularly dangerous for journalists in recent years as drug cartels fight each other and the government in stepped-up waves of violence.

"Twenty-two journalists have been murdered since President Felipe Calderon Hinojosa took office in December 2006, at least eight in direct reprisal for reporting on crime and corruption," the independent and non-profit Committee to Protect Journalists said in a special report this month. "Three media support workers have been slain and at least seven other journalists have gone missing during this period. In addition, dozens of journalists have been attacked, kidnapped or forced into exile."

Authorities say more than 28,000 people have died in drug-related violence since Calderon declared war on the cartels.

Mexican officials announced in early August that they had arrested three suspects in connection with the journalists' abductions.

The suspects belonged to the Pacific Cartel, said Rosas, the federal police commissioner.

He identified the three men as Jesus Antonio Villa Nevarez, 25, known as "El Yesi;" Gilberto Cervantes Pinto, 33, known as "El Gil;" and Oscar Manuel Gutierrez Gomez, 23.

Villa Nevarez organized logistics for the Pacific Cartel cell, Rosas said, while Cervantes Pinto was second in command. Gutierrez Gomez was an operative in the cell and also kept watch over kidnap victims, Rosas said.

The arrests were made at two locations in the same area in which the abductions took place, Rosas said.

Despite the arrests, Hernandez is still in danger, the cameraman's lawyer said Tuesday. After Hernandez gained his freedom, Spector said, authorities told him they were going to take him to Mexico City to meet Calderon.

"Instead, he was duped into a press conference," Spector said. "The problem is the danger that federal Mexican officials put him in by parading him in front of the cameras."