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Protesting against impunity in the murder of Chihuahuan Journalist Miroslava Breach

This article first appeared in newspaper La Jornada on Monday 24 July 2017. It has been translated without permission.

Protesting against impunity in the murder of Journalist Miroslava Breach
By Rubén Villalpando (La Jornada)

Miroslava 4 Months

Chihuahua Journalists Recall 22 Murdered Colleagues, photo courtesy of Julio Rivera, published in La Jornada.

Chihuahua, Mexico.— The murder of journalist Miroslava Breach occurred four months ago yesterday. She was La Jornada’s correspondent based in Chihuahua, the state’s capital city, and she also wrote for El Norte of Ciudad Juárez. Activists, family members, and journalists gathered again to demand justice four months after the crime. Until now the perpetrator and mastermind behind the crime have not been detained. Impunity marks the case, the protester said.

The protest occurred in front of the statehouse. It’s also the location of the Cross of Nails, each one representing the violent death of a woman. They demanded that the state government, headed by Javier Corral, a member of the Partido de Acción Nacional, work to solve the murder and stop announcing advances in the murder when in reality none exist.

At the event, convened by journalists in the state capital, they recalled the names of the 22 journalists murdered in the state, along with those cases authorities have failed to solve since 2010, just as in the murder of Miroslava Breach.

At the protest they shouted for an end to violence, placed banners and posters with words calling for justice, emphasized that reporting is a high-risk activities for journalists, and demanded authorities guarantee freedom of expression and punishment for those responsible for murders.

They acknowledged that four months have passed since Miroslava Breach’s murder outside her home in the Loma Vallarta neighborhood of Chihuahua city. They demanded the investigation continue; above all else because Governor Javier Corral has said that the perpetrator and mastermind have been identified, along with their accomplices. Yet nobody has been arrested and charged.

Just Like Every Month

Every month journalists and activists gather in Chihuahua city to remember Miroslava Breach and call for justice. In the fourth month since her murder they remembered that in June the Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Edison Lanza, called on the state to comply with its obligation to investigate and solve the crime committed against the journalist last March 23.

Governor Javier Corral said three months ago in Ciudad Juárez that the perpetrator and mastermind only needed to be arrested. The failure to do so is why journalists, activists, citizens and the family of Miroslava Breach have on many occasions protested in the center of the city to demand application of the rule of law.

Journalist Rubén Villalpando is a Ciudad Juárez based correspondent for national newspaper La Jornada.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist based in Mexico City. Like the MxJTP on FaceBook.

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Evil Commander, Javier Valdez Cárdenas

[From RíoDoce, published on October 12, 2014.]

mexican-police-force-on-truck

From a distance he saw the commander abusing some farmers so he shouted at him. As he approached the officer he continued having a go at him. What are they doing to you? Don’t mistreat ordinary people! Just because you’re in a squad car and you’re armed and wearing that uniform. If you want to accuse them of something well detain them and take them to the prosecutor. But don’t go around insulting them and messing with them.

The commander looked at him, face furrowed. The deep lines appeared on his face at the moment when he reacted to the man who was stopping him from taking his anger out on the farmers. Putting heat on them wasn’t even worth the few notes in their pockets.

He saw the truck the unknown shouter got into. He felt offended, brought low. With his power interrupted in front of other police officers, in front of those lowlifes he always saw as enemies, the point men for the other narcos, the criminals with power, angry and cornered for all the security operations underway.

He took a note of the license plate and asked an officer to investigate. I want to know who that bastard is. It wasn’t a huge deal: just an honest man who delivered building materials, who sometimes had money and at other times couldn’t even afford to eat or to pay for his children’s school. A businessman and a bricklayer, a driver, freighter, seller and distributor, with two employees in his pay. He was also a brave citizen, upright and dignified.

One afternoon the man’s loader broke down. He went to a nearby city with one of his workers to replace the broken piece. In the repair shop they told him it cost five thousand pesos. Big money. He went to look for a used one and he found it for fewer than two thousand. Some guys he knew invited him for a beer: no thanks man, I don’t drink when I am working. The engine’s still running.

He moved off in the truck. He came across a roadblock. What are they going to stop me for? They’ll run their eyes over the truck, ask me for identification, papers. That’s what he thought. He said it’ll be two minutes and we’ll be off. A witness said that they made him get out. They opened the truck’s seats with knives, stripped the dashboard and beat it all up. They were looking for drugs, weapons. They did not find anything, but they took the men off. Handcuffed, hunched over, made small. That’s how they put them in the patrol car.

Two days later they found them. They were in the same truck, in an irrigation ditch. Handcuffed. Their feet tied together. There clothes were ripped. Bruises on their heads and bodies.

The witness said the man at the front of the roadblock was the same commander the man confronted for abusing the farmers. It was the same uniform, the same squad car. They called him Evil Commander.

Award winning Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas was murdered on 15 May 2017 just after leaving Ríodocea newspaper he helped establish in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He was 50 years old. He published this Malayerba column on October 12, 2014. His most recent book (previously published in Spanish as Levantones), appears in English translation and with an introduction to Sinaloa by Everard Meade as The Taken: True Stories of the Sinaloa Drug War,  published earlier this year by University of Oklahoma Press.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator in the Americas, an investigative journalist, and historian. NACLA, the CPJ Blog, The Texas Observer, and CounterPunch have published his writing.

 

 

 

 

$$ – MxJTP for a training at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

If you’ve enjoyed reading these pro bono translations this year, perhaps you’ll consider making a donation to a crowdfunding appeal to send me on a human rights course in Washington, DC?

The whole purpose of this project is to try to advance against impunity for the murders and disappearances of Mexican journalists.

And, if you have read something about me, you’ll know that I have worked on the journalists’ murders for the last three years. I’ve been working on human rights in Mexico since at least 2000, and publishing since at least 2002. This commitment is long term.

I’m crowdfunding via Indiegogo for US$850 to send me on a two-day course about journalists and human rights at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Please click on the link to DONATE or spread the word!

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/training-journalists-human-rights-in-the-americas/x/9007966

Unprecedented response to Mexican journalist’s murder (Patrick Timmons, CPJ Guest Blogger)

Unprecedented response to Mexican journalist’s murder (Patrick Timmons, CPJ Guest Blogger)

The disappearance and murder in Veracruz from February 5 through 11 of local journalist Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz remains mired in controversy.

In mid February, after Jiménez’s murder, a group of journalists traveled to Veracruz and investigated the authorities’ response to the journalist’s killing. On March 19, the group, called Misión de Observación, published the findings of its unprecedented investigation in a report called “Gregorio: Asesinado por informar” (Gregorio: Murdered for Reporting). Their report documented Jiménez’s disappearance and murder, the state’s ineffective response, and the less-than-supportive working conditions of his newspapers in southern Veracruz.

CLICK ON THE LINK ABOVE TO KEEP READING

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“We Demand the Return of the Kidnaped Mexican Journalist” (EL PAÍS)

This article was published in El País on 10 February 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

“We demand the return of the kidnaped Mexican journalist.”

By El País Mexico Reporters

– Colleagues from around the world show their support via social media for abducted reporter Gregorio Jiménez

Five days algo some gunmen took journalist Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz from his home in the Mexican state of Veracruz. His whereabouts have been unknown since then. Colleagues across the world have expressed their solidarity with his situation and that of local journalists whose reporting threatens criminal groups. Using hashtag #QueremosVivoaGoyo,  thousands of messages have flooded social media, demanding his freedom and insisting that the authorities fulfil their responsibility to find him using all the means at their disposal. In the last decade, 29 reporters have been killed in Mexico. No case has resulted in a guilty sentence.

Goyo Jiménez (40) works as a freelance reporter in the city of Coatzacoalcos – in southeast Mexico – for two regional dailies, Diario Notisur and El Liberal del Sur. But the outpouring of solidarity from the media has quickly gone beyond the state’s borders. On Sunday, messages multiplied on Twitter and Facebook, many of them directed at Javier Duarte, governor of Veracruz, and Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto. The messages called for colleagues to post pictures of Jiménez and videos demanding his release. Journalists have become protagonists in a news story demanding Goyo’s wherabouts, but they also want to stop the persecution and harassment of their colleagues. Pictures began to arrive from farther afield than Coatzalcoalcos: not only Juárez, Tamaulipas, and Mexico City… but also from Spain, Costa Rica, Argentina, Germany, the United States and Egypt.

This Monday, the mobilization moved from the web, pushing out onto the streets, particularly in some Veracruz cities. Coatzacoalcos, Xalapa – the state capital – and Veracruz, among the most well known places. The web campaign has not stopped and the hashtag has turned into #HastaQueAparezcaGoyo (Until Goyo Reappears), a phrase that distills the reasons for the protest. Whether on the web or in the streets, the campaign will continue even when the news is part of yesterday’s paper.

Periodistas de a pie, a grass-roots association of Mexican reporters, has put its resources behind the case. The organisation has distributed the journalist’s image on a red background bearing the words, “We want Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz back alive.” Journalists from Peru, Chile, Ecuador and El Salvador, among other countries, responded to the call. They posted photos of themselves beside Goyo’s image. The lack of safety for reporters is an endemic problem throughout many Latin American countries.

Argentine reporters at Infojus Noticias posted a photo of themselves with each member holding up the Mexican reporter’s image and a message of support: “We want Goyo back alive.” Carlos Dada, an editor at El Faro; Alejandra Xanic, a Pulitzer prize-winning Mexican journalist; Jacobo García, El Mundo’s correspondent; and Peruvian journalist Jacqueline Fowks, an EL PAÍS contributor, voiced their support for the campaign. Father Alejandro Solalinde, the Mexican priest dedicated to the protection of Central American migrants crossing the country to reach the United States, is yet one more person who has put his voice to the campaign.

Article 19 – an organisation that documents abuses and threats against media workers – issued a press release demanding that the Federal Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) must take charge of investigating Jiménez’s disappearance. The organisation also asked for measures to protect reporters in the area “after signs from a group of the region’s reporters confirming that, in the aftermath of Gregorio Jiménez’s enforced disappearance, adequate conditions do not exist to practice journalism.”

EL PAÍS’s team of Mexico reporters has joined the campaign with a video in support of Gregorio Jiménez.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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Breakfast with… Adrián Alejándrez, A Pastor Fighting Against Drug Trafficking in Michoacán, Mexico (Paula Chouza, El País)

This article first appeared in Spanish in El País on 31 January 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Breakfast with… Adrián Alejándrez, A Pastor Fighting Against Drug Trafficking
by Paula Chouza (El País)

“Michoacán’s violence comes from shared blame”

– The pastor fights against drug trafficking in the Mexican city of Apatzingán

Father Adrián Alejandro Chávez (Tepalcatepec, Mexico, 1979) was studying law in Rome when abuses by organized crime began to wear down the population of the Tierra Caliente, in southern Mexico’s violent State of Michoacán. “When I left – in 2010 – the cartels were fighting each other.” On 24 February 2013, residents of neighboring townships decided to take up arms because of “the authorities’ inaction.” Father Adrián is the priest in the cathedral of Apatzingán, a city of 80,000 people, the economic heart of the region, and the stronghold of the Knight’s Templar, a group formed in 2011 after a split from La Familia Michoacana. “When I returned [from Rome] a few months later, the atmosphere had changed completely.” His family hails from Tepalcatepec, one of the townships that decided to take things into their own hands. “As we have said in several published letters, the Church opposes violence, from whichever side.” For this reason, the priest does not support the militia movement of armed civilians.

In a chat in his office after enjoying an uchepo (a maize tamal served with milk) from a street stall in front of the Cathedral, Father Adrián says that over the past decade Apatzingán’s people have borne the brunt of drug trafficking violence. “They’ve managed to put themselves in every institution because they resolved problems rather than the government. They have taken power everywhere but the Church. They don’t leave us alone.”

“We are suffering the consequences of shared guilt,” recognizes Alejándrez Chávez. “Blame doesn’t just rest with the government but also with the Church and civil society. We’re used to staying silent, covering things up. Many of these people were baptized and they took the catechism. They are part of the problem, yes, but they aren’t alone. For example, in the community these people helped build a basketball court and that shut the neighbors up. It’s just too easy. When the government began to negotiate, that’s when things worsened. We were all wrong,” he admits.

Apatzingán’s diocese has been threatened because it dared speak out against the violence. Some of the priests officiating at mass have for months tried to reassure themselves by wearing bulletproof vests. “I can’t really go on talking about God and about life when everything stinks of death,” he told the press a few days ago. “Yes, death is all around,” ponders the priest during our interview, “but I do believe that we must continue talking about God. Statements like the one I made to the media come from being worn out, from listening day in and day out to violent stories: disappeared family members, rapes, beheadings, or dismemberments. I don’t justify why people think like that, but I do understand it.”

This pattern of painful stories repeats itself throughout the region’s townships. Father Adrián heads up the recently created Compassion Pastoral, a 14-person group that accompanies victims’ families. The priest confirms that Michoacán’s situation has forced people to seek refuge in the institution. “The Church is packed. Our membership has increased.”

Journalist Paula Chouza reports from Mexico for El País. Follow her on Twitter @pchouza. This story first appeared in the series, “Desayuno con… Adrián Alejándrez, Vicario en lucha contra el narcotráfico,” available at: http://sociedad.elpais.com/sociedad/2014/01/31/actualidad/1391193813_031851.html

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist based in the Americas. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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Officials Investigate Family of a Journalist Critical of Chiapas Authorities (Luis Pablo Beauregard, EL PAÍS)

This article first appeared in Spanish in El País. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Officials Investigate Family of a Journalist Critical of Chiapas Authorities
by Luis Pablo Beauregard (EL PAÍS)

–       State prosecutors act on criminal complaint about 2013 allegations

The Attorney General of the State of Chiapas (in southeast Mexico, bordering Guatemala) on Tuesday ordered V.S. to give a statement about allegations of extortion. The person under investigation is the sister of Sandra de los Santos and Patricia Chandomi, two journalists critical of state authorities led by Governor Manuel Velasco of the Partido Verde and the PRI. One of the accused’s sisters has called it “an intimidating tactic” since officials have only just begun to investigate a criminal complaint dated June 2013.

Sandra de los Santos edits the webpage Chiapas Paralelo, a leftist electronic media outlet. “The page is very outspoken. The truth is that they’ve tried to buy us off, but we haven’t been bought,” the editor said. This Tuesday the website published an open letter to the governor. The text of the letter states, “there are a series of irregularities [in the judicial investigation]. The point of this action is to threaten the freedom of expression of Chiapas Paralelo’s staff.”

Authorities called V.S. to appear because she could be linked to a June 2013 attempt to extort by telephone. On those calls she is supposed to have asked for amounts from 400 pesos (USD$30) to 1,500 pesos (USD$113). De Los Santos commented the allegations are “groundless” because the alleged victim has not filed a complaint. A third party, assumed to be the father of the victim, made the complaint. “The person who allegedly carried out the extortion can’t be found and bank deposits or payments to V.S. don’t even exist,” states the letter’s text.

The crime is under investigation by the Prosecutor for High Profile Matters, charged with pursuing political cases or those of great social impact. “What’s this case doing with them?” Santos has asked. The reporter says that her 34-year old sister is a domestic help, and works as a receptionist in a business: “she has nothing to do with the media” and she’s neither linked to politics nor social activism. The letter states that the prosecutor, Raciel López Salazar, told them that the investigation was just “a routine matter.”

Article XIX – an NGO that oversees global freedom of expression issues – issued an alert on 25 January for judicial “harassment” against the family of De Los Santos. “The journalist sees this action as attempt to pressure both the outlet’s and her editorial line,” read the NGO’s alert.

This case isn’t the first attempt to intimidate journalists critical of Chiapas’s government. During Juan Sabines’s governorship (2006 – 2012), officials tried to link Isaín Mandujano, a reporter for newsweekly Proceso, with an attack on another journalist. They accused him of attempted homicide. Under pressure from national media outlets and human rights organs, the state’s prosecutor had to withdraw the charges, admitting that no evidence existed to link Mandujano with the case.

In November 2010 authorities detained a young reporter named Héctor Bautista after they received an anonymous tip off naming him as author of “negative comments that attempt to undermine good government.” The public prosecutor tried to tie Bautista to thousands of images of child pornography. Bautista was in charge of the webpage Infochiapas.com, dealing with touchy subjects for state authorities: the inexplicable increase in Chiapas’s public debt – in a few years it went from USD$66million to USD$1.8billion. The young reporter spent 40 days in prison and was freed only thanks to pressure from civil society.

Bautista’s and Mandujano’s cases occurred during the preceding governor’s administration. At that time, Raciel López was chief prosecutor. In Manuel Velasco’s administration López has continued in the post despite criticism identifying him as responsible for the persecution of journalists and political adversaries during Sabines’s governorship. Among other things, he is investigating 56 former officials.

At the beginning of this month, El País questioned Manuel Velasco about this controversial person. “He’s one of my security officials. We are one of Mexico’s three safest states. He’s not there to persecute anybody. During my first year we haven’t gone after anybody,” said the young governor.

This unofficial translation has used corrected dates concerning the alleged extortion in June 2013.

Journalist Luis Pablo Beauregard reports for El País from Mexico. This story first appeared with the title, “El Gobierno de Chiapas investiga a la familia de una periodista crítica,” available at: http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2014/01/29/actualidad/1390965135_877269.html.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

 

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Break-in at Home of Veracruz Photojournalist, Félix Márquez (RevistaEra.Com)

This news brief first appeared in RevistaEra.com. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Translator’s note: The significance of this story lies in the fact that it documents the third break in and robbery at the home of a Veracruz journalist during January 2014. Earlier in the month, journalists Gabriela Lira and Raymundo León experienced similar acts in different cities, suggesting a modus operandi, maybe even a strategy. As one journalist working in Veracruz told me, “Something fishy is going on.” PT

Break-in at Home of Veracruz Photojournalist
by Revista Era, 30 January 2014

– Early in the morning of 30 January 2014 photojournalist Félix Marquez´s home was robbed of computers, cell phones, and personal documents

Veracruz, Ver.- The home of a Veracruz photojournalist was broken into this morning, and robbed of computers, cell phones, and personal documents.

The robbery took place early in the morning, when the family noticed that the house had been broken into.

After reporting the robbery, the Naval Police took an hour to arrive. The Veracruz journalist already filed a complaint with the state’s attorney general, in the hope of finding out who was responsible.

This is not the first time that Veracruz media workers have been robbed in their homes of their personal equipment. The same happened to Regina Martínez, Proceso’s correspondent, who was killed in her home. The same happened to Andrés Timoteo, Notiver columnist and former correspondent for the Jornada, who currently lives out of the state.

A number of journalists working in the state have expressed sympathy for the photojournalist, taking to social media networks, demanding punishment for those responsible.

Félix Márquez is a photojournalist with Cuartooscuro, Associated Press, and a collaborator of various media outlets within the state, including Revista Era. He shot the photos of Tlalixcoyan that proved the existence of militia in the state. These photos provoked threats from the then head of public safety, Arturo Bermúdez Zurita, who said he wanted Márquez imprisoned.

PHOTOJOURNALISM BY FÉLIX MÁRQUEZ
– Tlalixcoyan joins the militia
http://revistaera.com/index.php/tlalixcoyan-tambien-se-autodefiende

– Urban militia, a new strategy
http://revistaera.com/index.php/autodefensa-urbana-la-nueva-estrategia

This news article was published by RevistaEra.com, a digital magazine from Veracruz, under the title “Asaltan casa de fotoperiodista #Veracruz,” available at: http://revistaera.com/index.php/m/7301-asaltan-casa-de-fotoperiodista-de-veracruz.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

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Backtracking on Freedom of Expression at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (José Miguel Vivanco, Op-ed, El País)

This article first appeared in El País on 11 November 2013. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Backtracking on Freedom of Expression at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
by José Miguel Vivanco (HRW / Op-Ed El País)

–        Jailing a journalist for informing about the obvious maladministration of public property sets a regrettable precedent

With the stroke of a pen, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights led by Judge Diego Garciá-Sayan has jeopardized both freedom of expression and basic guarantees in criminal procedure. Within the region, institutional weakness is the norm, so the judgment amounts to a serious reversal that will weaken rights and fundamental freedoms. But it also makes the fight against corruption more difficult, and that’s a battle we continue to lose.

In a recent judgment – decided by a narrow majority – the Court has backtracked on important precedents it has defended for years. Three of the seven judges cast valuable votes that show deep divisions exist at the Court.

The regrettable decision in Mémoli v. Argentina deals with a criminal sentence against a journalist who informed about the evident maladministration of public property. Pablo Mémoli, editor of a newspaper in a small city in the province of Buenos Aires, warned that a private society had sold public property belonging to the town. Thanks to the news, the justice system intervened. Those affected by, and who learned of, the illegitimate sale recovered their money. Surprisingly, the same judge who canceled the contracts decided that the society’s directors had acted unaware that the public property did not belong to them.

In a strange twist, the only ones tried for these facts were those who spread the news. Mémoli was found guilty of defamation and sentenced to five months in prison. His father, who belonged to the society and had filed a complaint with the relevant authorities, was sentenced to a month in prison. As if that weren’t enough, the criminal sentences imposed a lien on the Mémolis’ property and also made them liable for suit in civil jurisdiction.

In 2008 – in the case of Kimel v. Argentina – the Inter-American Court decided that its criminal defamation law was incompatible with the American Convention on Human Rights. For the Court, the crime’s definition was ambiguous, violating the legal principle that criminal behavior must be precisely stated. As a result of the Court’s judgment in Kimel, Argentina decriminalized slander and libel when the offensive statements referred to subjects of public interest.

In this case the Court should have required that the Mémolis – guilty for a crime now inexistent in Argentina – benefit from the principle that when one law is more favorable to the accused than another, the more favorable should apply. However, without any reasonable explanation, and going against the grain of its jurisprudence, the Court backtracked, validating the criminal sentence and its effects.

This case centered on freedom of expression, and the Court redefined that right in ways that pale in comparison to its precedents. For example, for the majority of judges, the maladministration of public property did not pass the public interest test; or, still more serious, the continent’s highest human rights court gave its blessing to criminalizing opinion. The four judges in the majority never even asked if the Mémolis’ complaints were truthful – according to its own jurisprudence truthful statements can´t be considered offensive. For the Court, the sentence against the journalist did not violate his right to freedom of expression, and he was denied relief.

In a Court hearing, Catalina Botero, the Organization of American States (OAS) Freedom of Expression Rapporteur, argued that the sentence against the Mémolis “discourages [freedom of speech] and encourages juridical uncertainty” suggesting that it affects “hundreds of journalists in the region who are now more defenseless.”

Thankfully – and perhaps because it wasn’t a part of this litigation – the Inter-American human rights jurisprudence still stands that decriminalizes insulting public officials, protecting criticism of them.

It’s very sad that García-Sayán’s Court has cast aside the established jurisprudence built on the sacrifices of those who have risked themselves to rein in official abuse about matters of public interest. In the Americas those who can regularly intimidate judges, so the Court has deprived the region of a key tool to fight against the abuse of power and corruption.

Human rights defender José Miguel Vivanco is executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. This article first appeared in El País on 11 November 2013 bearing the title, “El Tribunal de las Américas Retrocede en la Libre Expresión,” available at http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2013/11/11/actualidad/1384198105_138110.html.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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Ecuador’s Communications Law aims for Cartoonist Bonil (Soraya Constante, El País)

This article first appeared in El País on 23 January 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Ecuador’s Communications Law aims for Cartoonist Bonil
by Soraya Constante (El País)

–        Cartoonist must testify about a sketch of a break in at home of journalist Villavicencio

Seven months after its approval, Ecuador’s Communications Law – which Human Rights Watch considers “restricting press freedom” – has come into force. The first person to appear before the Superintendent of Information and Communication is cartoonist Xavier Bonilla (Bonil). An internal report from this agency alleges that Bonil distorted the truth and supported social unrest when on 28 December he published a cartoon in newspaper El Universo about a break in at the apartment of Fernando Villavicencio, a journalist and an advisor to an opposition lawmaker.

The cartoon appeared with the caption: “Police and prosecutors raid the home of Fernando Villavicencio and carry off documents alleging corruption.” The cartoon used Christmas as a hook to narrate what happened on the night of 26 and morning of 27 December, according to those affected and media reports.

In its first three months, the Information Superintendent has processed 52 cases, of which 20 have been resolved. The agency’s head, Carlos Ochoa did not provide more information about its operation, and what little is known about it is thanks to an interview he gave to Noticias Andes, a state news agency. “We don’t analyze cases publicly. We inform the parties in the dispute, and after a legal process we asses whether the law has been violated or not,” Ochoa told the news agency.

Bonil’s case has drawn attention because President Rafael Correa mentioned it in a broadcast on 4 January. On his show, La Canallada de la Semana [Weekly Roundup] he labeled Xavier Bonilla “sick, a hitman who uses ink,” and threatened to enforce the Communications Law. “We’ll file a complaint because now we have the Communications Law defending us. Otherwise, cartoonists who dressed themselves up as comedians will just spew their hate.”

The first working day after Correa made these announcements, the Superintendent for Information and Communication, Carlos Ochoa, asked newspaper El Universo for copies of the cartoon, and its author’s identity. As a result, the cartoonist and his lawyer went public about the process. Last Tuesday they replied to the Superintendent with a seven-page submission explaining different ways to look at caricature. “At base and in essence, it rests on exaggerating and poking fun at reality … it’s graphic, humorous opinion, so it’s as subject to its creator’s perspective as it is to that of the person looking at it,” states the text. The cartoonist also cited the press reports where he drew information for the sketch.

Bonil’s lawyer explained that the next step is an appearance where the parties present evidence and documents relevant to the case. The Superintendent has five days to schedule that meeting and then two days to issue a sanction, or archive the case. The new regulations for the Communications Law guide this process. President Rafael Correa issued those regulations at the beginning of this week, saying that they clarified parts of the Communications Law passed in June 2013.

The regulations – made up of 89 articles and 4 transitional provisions – go even further than the Communications Law in a desire to control content. César Ricaurte, director of the Andean Foundation for the Observation and Study of the Media (Fundamedios), worries about the control of internet-based media, something that wasn’t part of the actual law but now appears in the regulations. “Legally speaking, it’s schizophrenic: one part of the regulations guarantees rights, but another article restricts them. Article 2 doesn’t place controls on content created by citizens and legal entities on their blogs, social networks, and personal, business, or institutional web pages. But Article 3 says that all Internet media are subject to the law. So that means Internet-based content is subject to control.”

Ricaurte’s team has been working since 2008 on a register of restrictions to press freedom. Just in the last year they report 174 threats against journalists and communications media. “State officials carry out the majority of the threats, abusing the powers of their office, and the principal aggressor is President Rafael Correa. He’s seen as responsible for 13% of the threats,” Ricaurte indicated. “The president continues a stigmatizing and systematic discourse inveighing against journalists and the media. He’s described journalists in the harshest terms. On his Saturday program he identifies them by name and broadcasts what they look like. He does that after he receives criticism, or with op-eds he doesn’t like.”

Add to those threats rulings against the media, journalists, and editorial columnists. Fundamedios counts 42 judgments since 2008, with an increase in the number of cases imitating the judgment Rafael Correa won against newspaper El Universo. Correa asked for USD$40million in damages. Last year, a former judge claimed damages against a media outlet in the border province of Esmeraldas, claiming payment of USD$30million. “When the President won against El Universo, he asked citizens to seek judgments against the media and reporters. As a consequence, there’s been an increasing in using the justice system to quiet journalists,” Ricaurte relates.

Correa has railed against international media. In October he took to Twitter to accuse the magazine The Economist of lacking impartiality based on an article it published about Texaco-Chevron operations. This year he has done the same with the magazine Newsweek and newspaper the Miami Herald. The magazine raised questions about the state’s role in the massacre of isolated indigenous people; while the newspaper referred to break-ins at the house and office of opposition lawmaker, Cléver Jimenez, and his advisor, Fernando Villavicencio. This issue has become untouchable for the government.

Human Rights Watch’s report on the Americas published this week agrees with Fundamendios. On the Communications Law, the NGO confirms that it contains “vague provisions that allow arbitrary prosecutions and censorship.” The organization warned that the rules “opens the door to censorship by giving the government or judges the power to decide if information is truthful.”

Newspaper El País has also been the target of attacks by Ecuador’s government. Today, it attacked the newspaper for publishing an interview with Fernando Villavicencio who is now in Washington, weighing an asylum request. The Ecuadorean government’s principal argument is that large media groups work against progressive governments.

Journalist Soraya Constante reports for El País from Quito, Ecuador. This article first appeared in Spanish on 23 January 2014 with the title “El caricaturista Bonil, primer señalado por la Ley de Comunicación de Ecuador,” available at: http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2014/01/23/actualidad/1390452426_870042.html.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a pro bono translation service to provide distinctive, quality Spanish-language journalism to English-speaking readers.

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