Tag Archives: freedom of expression

The Abducted Journalist and the Mayor of Medellín, Veracruz By Ignacio Carvajal (SinEmbargo)

This article was first published on 9 January 2015. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.

The Abducted Journalist and the Mayor of Medellín, Veracruz
By Ignacio Carvajal (SinEmbargo)

(The first journalist abducted this year Moisés Sánchez of Veracruz, Mexico, was taken by armed men from his home in Medellín de Bravo on 2 January 2015. He has not yet been found. The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a press release summarizing the facts of Sánchez’s disappearance, demanding his return and the prosecution of his abductors. Veracruz is one of the most dangerous places in the Americas to practice journalism: CPJ reports that since 2011 three journalists have disappeared and the organization has documented the murders of nine other journalists.

Prior to Moisés Sanchez’s disappearance the mayor of Medellín had threatened the journalist. Days after Sánchez’s disappearance, the Associated Press reported that the entire municipal police force of Medellín de Bravo had been brought in for questioning by the Veracruz State Prosecutor with three of those officers detained.

Journalist Ignacio Carvajal reports from Veracruz on the story of the friendship and the fight between the journalist and the mayor of Medellín. – PT)

As a candidate he kissed children. He said hello to farmers and housewives. He walked the muddy streets of Medellín’s villages. He wore out his shoes and got thorns in his clothes in the rural areas. He promised that if he won he would jail his predecessors: Rubén Darío Lagunes and his putative political offspring Marcos Isleño Andrade, both of the Party of the Institutional Revolution (PRI). And he promised one more thing. Omar Cruz Reyes offered all the directorships and executive appointments to those born in the township: “Medellín for people from Medellín,” he used to say. But he did not fulfill that promise. Most of his cabinet was filled with people who lived in the Port of Veracruz and its bordering neighbor Boca del Río.

Omar Cruz is not a dyed-in-the wool PAN-ista. He became a candidate for the PAN thanks to efforts by his sister-in-law Hilda Nava Seseña and her uncle and aunt, Salustia Nava Seseña and Maurilio Fernández Ovando. The aunt is former president of the DIF [Mexico’s Children and Families Department] and the uncle is the former PANista Mayor of Medellín. Hilda was Maurilio Fernández’s personal assistant when he served as mayor.

At the same time, Omar Cruz Reyes created an organization bearing his initials (Organizando Contigo el Rumbo – literally translated as Organizing the Future With You) to work with the residents of the new subdivisions, like Arboleda San Ramón Puente Moreno and Casa Blanca. Both places bring together thousands of voters, mostly from Veracruz and Boca del Río).

Before the 2010 local elections, and to keep himself on the lips of voters, Cruz began a media campaign demonstrating against mayors Marco Isleño Andrade (2010 – 2013) and Rubén Darío Lagunes (2007 – 2010); primary school students made fun of Lagunes at school events because he dallied when he gave speeches.

There were at least three protests where Omar Cruz attacked Marcos Isleño Andrade for absent public works, missing support and neglect by the municipality. Invariably the journalist Moisés Sánchez attended these protests. He saw Omar Cruz – when he entered politics he was just 27 – as without bad political habits, without “a tail to be tugged”, well spoken, educated, from the working middle class and a rousing speaker against Marcos Isleño and in favor of citizens. The men clicked. And Moisés Sánchez began following him through the streets and writing stories about his promises and his projects. At last a young person from El Tejar – Medellín’s most important area – was willing to fight back against the corrupt politicians.

In the spirit of “Medellín for people from Medellín,” Omar Cruz offered Moisés Sánchez the position of press officer if he made it into the mayor’s office. That’s what Sanchez’s colleagues said; it was his big dream back in those days: to be his town’s press officer at city hall.

CRUZ TURNED HIS BACK ON THE PAN

He had just won office as mayor when Omar Cruz turned his back on the PAN and his campaign promises, remembers a city employee who preferred to remain anonymous. Photo: Special

He had just won office as mayor when Omar Cruz turned his back on the PAN and his campaign promises, remembers a city employee who preferred to remain anonymous. Photo: Special

He’d barely won but he started reneging on his promises. He gave the post promised to the journalist to a person from the port of Veracruz. The salaries weren’t what he had promised. Neither were the responsibilities, nor the secretaries and support staff. The important posts stayed in the hands of citizens from the conurbation of Veracruz-Boca del Río and did not go to the professional activists in Medellín’s Partido de Acción Nacional (National Action Party, or, PAN). This young businessman’s promises were soon spent and many sunk. “Many people support him but it’s out of necessity, because their salaries aren’t enough,” said one city employee who commented on condition of anonymity.

On the campaign trail Omar Cruz was a different person from the one he became when mayor elect. He stood on the same platform as Julen Rementería and Oscar Lara, respectively the former mayor of Veracruz and a former PAN-ista legislator. This couple are credited with bringing Omar Cruz over to Governor Javier Duarte, to the PRI and to “red PANism” – the term, panismo rojo is a colloquial expression for a bloc of PAN-istas who fight the government of Veracruz with one hand but with the other support every move by Javier Duarte as governor. (Translator’s note: the PAN’s color is blue.)

The gap between Omar and the PAN-istas in Veracruz’s state capital, Xalapa, and with the Yunes [a political family in Veracruz with links to both the PAN and the PRI] soon widened. On one day he was seen close to Raúl Zarrabal, PRI legislator for Boca del Río on Wednesday when visiting his constituents, the next day he was with the PRI-ista side of the Yunes and the following day he was with a representative of the government of Veracruz.

Omar Cruz’s ties to Governor Duarte grew stronger because of the issues surrounding the Metropolitan Water and Sanitation System (SAS), a para-municipal organization that regulates and administers sanitation and water supply in the Veracruz-Boca del Río-Medellín conurbation. Its management of millions of pesos of resources has always been opaque.

In the middle of 2014, the mayor of Boca del Río, Miguel Ángel Yunes Márquez threatened breaking away from the SAS so that his city could administer its own municipal infrastructure. Independently of this threat, Yunes Márquez had provided evidence of the overwhelming corruption in the SAS since Yolanda Carlín’s time as its director. There were dozens of Carlín-friendly journalists on her payroll, leaders of PRI neighborhoods, among others. But the real debacle began when José Ruiz Carmona arrived on the scene. Carmona was a PRI-ista who had held many public posts and had concluded an undergraduate degree in record time. Governor Javier Duarte modified the law so that Ruiz Carmona could manage the SAS.

Ruiz Carmona ended his time at the top of the organization with blackouts for failure to pay bills, protests over uniforms for workers and complaints made to its union by pilots, lovers, wives and family members belonging to both the PRI and the PAN, all of whom were on the payroll or well-connected. Javier Duarte ignored the financial shambles left by Ruiz Carmona and brought him into his cabinet, naming him undersecretary for Human Development in the Ministry of Social Development (SEDESOL).

In this context and so as to establish order in the SAS, Yunez Márquez was waiting for support from Omar Cruz against the only PRI-ista on the organization’s board, Ramón Poo, the mayor of the Port of Veracruz. Instead, he deserted Yunes Márquez to support the SAS plan to create another organization, passing over Ruiz Carmona and other former directors.

Omar Cruz attended every event in the Port of Veracruz and Boca del Río at which Duarte appeared, looking for a moment, even if just a hello, with the governor.

Around Medellín, Omar Cruz assumed a friendship with Javier Duarte. “We understand society’s problems because we are both young,” he was heard to say. Now the governor won’t even answer his phone calls.

Back in 1812, in this municipality, army officer and ex-President Nicolás Bravo spared the lives of 300 Spanish combatants who had fallen prisoner in the Wars for Independence. That’s why Medellín is called Medellín de Bravo. It doesn’t look like Omar Cruz is going to have luck similar to that of the Spanish.

In Veracruz the worst state to practice journalism in the Americas, a place toxic for reporters, Moisés Sanchez’s abduction is the first time a high profile culprit has been accused of a crime against freedom of expression. The PRI-ista state government of Veracruz sees an opportunity to strike a blow against the PAN in the conurbation of Veracruz-Boca del Río-Medellín as it prepares for the 2015 federal elections.

Today, up to press deadline, not one PAN-ista heavyweight has spoken out in support of Omar Cruz. Not at the state level and there’s not a peep from Julen Rementería or Oscar Lara. Medellín’s PAN-istas have withdrawn into themselves, mute, watching everything and letting the guillotine fall into the hands of the prosecutor, Luis Ángel Bravo, who is aiming for Omar Cruz’s neck.

THE ABARCA OF MEDELLÍN’S MANGO ORCHARDS

Since the disappearance of Moisés Sáncez, people in Veracruz have compared Mayor Omar Cruz and his wife, Maricela Nava to the Mayor of Iguala, Guerrero and his wife. Photo: Twitter @HaytodeMedellin

Since the disappearance of Moisés Sáncez, people in Veracruz have compared Mayor Omar Cruz and his wife, Maricela Nava to the Mayor of Iguala, Guerrero and his wife. Photo: Twitter @HaytodeMedellin

Since the disappearance of Moisés Sáncez, people in Veracruz have compared Mayor Omar Cruz and his wife, Maricela Nava to the Mayor of Iguala, Guerrero and his wife. Photo: Twitter @HaytodeMedellin

Another person passed over by Omar Cruz says, “The best jobs and salaries went to his friends. He sidelined the current PAN-istas and he gave them lesser jobs with low salaries. That was the constant complaint. In my case I left because of the pay. He promised me 12,000 pesos a month as a director (US$820) but I got half that. When I complained about the shortfall to Omar Cruz he wouldn’t talk to me. He sent me to his wife, Maricela Nava Seseña, the DIF president.”

Since what happened to Moisés Sánchez, both Maricela Nava and Omar Cruz have been compared to the Abarca, the mayor and his wife from the state of Guerrero [alleged to have masterminded the disappearances of the 43 student teachers of Ayotzinapa]. In this Veracruz municipality of major mango cultivation, Cruz and Nava ruled during the day and night, and people from the state have labeled them “the Abarca of the Mango Orchards.”

Inside the municipal building, in fact, they say that Omar Cruz does not decide anything without first going through Maricela Nava and her sister, Hilda Nava Seseña. Omar Cruz made his sister in law the municipal secretary.

The three live under the same roof in the Residencial Marino in Boca del Río where the cheapest houses sell for 1.5 million pesos (US$100,000) — and that’s the price of some of the more austere properties. The upscale residential neighborhood is five minutes from Plaza El Dorado, currently one of Veracruz’s most exclusive malls, frequented by those Veracruz magnates who arrive in their yachts – it has a marina – to buy cinema tickets for a matinée or to lunch in one of its restaurants.

The neighborhood is lined with beautiful trees. It is connected to the highway with panoramic views of the beaches in Vacas-Boca del Río. There are mansions, large salons for special events, estates with country houses and staff on hand for a relaxing weekend, all lining the backwater of the River Jamapa.

Omar, Maricela and Hilda ride around in this year’s trucks. The three use bodyguards and together they attend sessions with spiritualists.

“In the first few days after taking office, several spiritualist consultants – witches – arrived to cleanse the place,” the source says.

They focused their efforts on expelling the bad vibes from the mayor’s office, occupied for six years by PRI-istas. They placed quartz, burned incense, copal and every sort of mélange making it smell like a market.

Once the bad spirits had left, the mayor ordered a giant portrait hanged: underneath the image in large letters appears the name, “Javier Duarte de Ochoa, constitutional governor of Veracruz.”

In that office, on another wall, another black and white image bearing large letters: OMAR CRUZ, PRESIDENTE MUNICIPAL.

And decorating the surrounds in his office are numerous photos of Cruz along with his wife and sister in law.

In the mayor’s office, they say, Maricela Nava Seseña – known as the Queen of Medellín – became accustomed to issuing instructions and telling off campaign workers.

“Why are you asking for so much money from my husband? Are you really so great or are you his lover?” That’s what the first lady of Medellín said to staffers who complained about the low level of their salaries to Omar Cruz.

When dealing with labor issues, the mayor did not personally deal with them. He hung up the phone, referring them to his wife or his sister-in-law.

That’s what the former DIF director, Paula Aguilar Tlaseca experienced. She was one of the first to jump ship because of the poor treatment, low salary and little professional recognition from the Abarca of Medellín de Bravo.

When dealing with complaints in citizen-related issues, the protests did not mean much to them. “Protest all you like. I am the mayor,” Cruz replied when his staff advised him that social problems such as the new annual charge for public cleaning were turning into flash points of unrest.

Omar Cruz offered Moisés Sánchez the position of press officer if he won election as mayor. However, a little after the election the conflicts between began until, according to one witness, the mayor threatened the journalist. Photo: Special.

Omar Cruz offered Moisés Sánchez the position of press officer if he won election as mayor. However, a little after the election the conflicts between the men began until, according to one witness, the mayor threatened the journalist. Photo: Special.

In Moisés’ last protest outside the Medellín municipal building in the middle of last December he complained about this new municipal tax and the increase in common crime. It was a bitter encounter with Omar Cruz. A strange thing, too, since the mayor never confronted his critics.

“Why are you protecting criminals?” Moisés dared to ask Omar. It has been forty-eight hours since the owner of a convenience store had been murdered, his truck taken.

“I am not protecting them. I am fighting them. I asked for help from the Mando Único [the unified state command of public safety agencies] and the Marines,” Omar Cruz replied. But Moisés was not satisfied and continued in a loud voice with his criticism until one of Cruz’s staff, Juanita León slapped Moisés Sanchez several times on the cheeks.

Omar Cruz did not do anything else. But he left without offering Moisés an apology and failing to scold his employee who had hit him. Instead, a friend of Moisés told his family that the mayor threatened the journalist…

“Take care. Omar says that he wants to frighten you.”

Ignacio Carvajal is a prize-winning journalist working in Veracruz. Follow him @nachopallaypaca on Twitter. In Latin America Carvajal is recognized as a skilled practitioner of the crónica, a form of reporting news by telling a story. Check out hisRanch of Horror” in translation for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project. This article was first published under the title, “Aliado de Duarte, cliente de “brujos”, el Alcalde del PAN puso la mira en periodista,” available at: http://www.sinembargo.mx/09-01-2015/1212468.

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. The MxJTP has a Facebook page: like it, here.

 

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , ,

The Photojournalist who Disappeared: Manuel Gabriel Fonseca Hernández, ´Cuco´(Galia García Palafox, NUESTRA APARENTE RENDICIÓN)

This article appeared originally in the book, Tú y yo coincídimos en la noche terrible, a collection of essays about murdered or disappeared Mexican journalists, by Lolita Bosch and Alejandro Vélez Salas, published by Nuestra Aparente Rendición in 2012. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

The Photojournalist who Disappeared: Manuel Gabriel Fonseca Hernández, ‘Cuco’
By Galia García Palafox (Nuestra Aparente Rendición)

Missing Since September 2011: Mexican Photojournalist Manuel Gabriel Fonseca

Missing Since September 2011: Mexican Photojournalist Manuel Gabriel Fonseca

Cuco is the story about a boy who wanted to be a journalist.

He hadn’t finished secondary school but Manuel Gabriel needed to work to take money home. He got a job cleaning the house of Araceli Shimabuko, a journalist in his town.

Araceli stopped him from cleaning and set him to hand out the magazine she edited, Paisajes. He took a taxi every day from his neighborhood to the center of town. While she reported he distributed the magazine to government offices. It was the closest he had been to these two worlds: inside and behind the scenes at the town hall, a view from afar of its mayor, some press conference or other when he went with Araceli. Her secretary, that’s what some officials and journalists called him.

After work they ate something or met with other reporters. Manuel Gabriel was fascinated. He became friends with journalists in Acayucan, a town of 83,000 residents in the south of the state of Veracruz. He didn’t skip the opportunity of going with somebody covering an accident, a fire or a fight. Manuel Gabriel knew immediately what the news world wanted, especially when it came to the police blotter.

He started helping journalist friends collect information, making visits to the public prosecutor, taking photos. One day he came home with a newspaper in his hands. His parents and his brother, Ricardo, could hardly believe it: at home Manuel Gabriel was known as José and in the news world somebody nicknamed him ‘Cuco,’ and he had published a story. He was a sixteen-year old reporter.

From that moment on his parents asked him to take care with what he published. He mustn’t get himself in trouble.

Somehow he got hold of an old, roll camera. He took photos and he took the roll to be developed. From a cybercafé he sent photos and news to magazines where he had begun to work.

One day he went to El Diario of Acayucan. He asked to speak with its owner. He didn’t want to talk with anybody else. Marcos Fonrouge, chief editor, dealt with him. He had heard talk about him. He had read him. Cuco wanted work and there was a position open for a reporter covering the crime beat. The job was his.

Fights between drunkards, men who beat people, car crashes. Cuco covered those stories. “They all made him proud,” Fonrouge says. Night and day he looked for an exclusive. He took it for granted he would get it. “Hey, I have the exclusive,” that’s what he said to reporter colleagues when he met them. He spent nights in police stations or in the public prosecutor’s office to get the scoop. He got home early in the morning.

Don Juan, his father, remembers that some days he only used to come home to change clothes after a visit to the morgue, to get rid of the smell of a body. Other times they didn’t used to see him at home until dawn. “He used to get home when we were all asleep, at one a.m., two in the morning. He used to bring us memelas [akin to a tostada (hard tortilla) with savory toppings] and empanadas and he got us all up to eat,” says Ricardo, his little brother. “He used to tell us that he had seen dead people or accidents.” He used to tell, he tells. He used to arrive, he arrives. He was, he is. Everybody who talks about Cuco changes verb tenses. Not Cuco used to be, no: Cuco is.

Cuco liked the dead. On one occasion his boss sent him to cover a social meeting of lawyers. Cuco returned with photos so bad that Fonrouge knew that it was his way of telling him that he did not want to be sent to cover events that weren’t part of the crime beat.

After a spell at El Diario of Acayucan, Cuco went to El Mañanero, a new daily with five reporters and a circulation of three thousand issues. He graduated from film to a digital camera. He used to show it off to people who wanted to see. And he showed it off to those who did not want to see it, too.

Saturday 17 September 2011 was his day off. In the morning he played cards with his brother. Five peso hands. He didn’t have any luck at the cards. He lost.

Ricardo went to play football. Cuco went to El Mañanero’s offices to collect his pay. He spoke with his boss for a few minutes. He told him he was going to eat some tamales nearby. Cuco was always ready to party.

That night he didn’t return home to sleep. His father went to look for him. He did not find him. In the newspaper they were waiting for his Sunday stories. They never arrived. His phone went straight to voicemail.

On Monday his father went to ask at the newspaper. The journalists had begun to mobilize. A group went to look for him in a neighboring town where a party was rumored to have taken place. There was no sign of Cuco. Another group met in an ice cream parlor to decide what to do. One of them called a deputy prosecutor and they filed a complaint. They started to investigate: did anybody see him in the park with a friend on Saturday night? Another said that he had been at the morgue. Did a witness see him get into a car with a sandwich seller? It wasn’t a sandwich seller but the hotdog seller. Rumors and rumors. Criminal investigations. More rumors. Nothing convincing.

El Mañanero has a policy of not publishing news about criminal groups who might endanger its workers. Cuco had not published anything compromising. Maybe he saw something he shouldn’t have seen. Maybe they weren’t going for him. Maybe he opened his mouth too much. Maybe he fell in with bad company. More rumors.

 

Journalist Galia García Palafox is editor in chief at Milenio Digital. She has reported for news outlets in the United States and Mexico and graduated with a Master’s from the Columbia School of Journalism. This article was first published under the title, “Manuel Gabriel Fonseca Hernández, ‘Cuco’,” and is available at: http://nuestraaparenterendicion.com/tuyyocoincidimosenlanocheterrible/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=84:manuel-gabriel-fonseca-hernandez#.VANQzWSwLBw.

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. The MxJTP has a Facebook page: like it, here.

Tagged , ,

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).

Tagged , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Killing of Mexican journalist sparks human rights ombudsman’s investigation
 (Diego Cruz, UT Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas Blog)

Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission will investigate the Jan. 23 murder of a journalist in Guerrero. It is the first killing of a journalist in Mexico this year.

Miguel Ángel Guzmán Garduño, an opinion columnist for the daily paper Vértice, was found dead in his Chilpancingo home after being robbed of his possessions, according to Diario de Guerrero. Authorities say Guzmán died from blows days before being discovered. The crime’s motive remains as yet unknown but authorities said the probable motive was the theft of electrical and domestic appliances and his car.

Guzmán was a primary school teacher, as well as a journalist. He had also worked as the head of public relations for the state of Guerrero’s public sector workers’ union (SUSPEG).

Independent of the motive, the CNDH insisted in a press statement concerning the case that the state’s obligation is to prevent acts that endanger freedom of expression.

“Federal and state authorities have the obligation to conduct a timely and effective investigation into threats against journalists in order to counter impunity and stop the deterioration of freedom of expression,” the CNDH said.

Mexico’s human rights ombudsman Raúl Plascencia Villanueva ordered his officials to visit the crime scene to analyze what happened and conduct their own investigation.

According to the CNDH, 87 journalists or media workers have been killed as a result of their work since 2000. In 2013 two reporters were murdered in Mexico, according to organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

This post was translated by human rights investigator and journalist Patrick Timmons, editor of the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

For a Tweet, Federal Prosecutors Investigate a Journalist for “Organised Crime”

Mexico's Federal Attorney General is investigating a journalist for tweeting about the reappearance of a criminal gang.

Mexico’s Federal Attorney General is investigating a journalist for tweeting about the reappearance of a criminal gang.

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

For a Tweet, Federal Prosecutors Investigate a Journalist for “Organised Crime”
By Paola Morales
(Translated by Patrick Timmons)

– Investigation opened into journalist from Oaxaca who tweeted the alleged reappearance of a criminal gang

 Sofía Valdivia, a journalist from Oaxaca and the presenter of Radiorama is under investigation for “organized crime” by Mexico’s Federal Attorney General (PGR). On 14 January 2014 the anchor of news show “Metropoli” tweeted from @sofyvaldivia that a criminal gang had reappeared.

In a tweet (pictured above), Sofía reported on the possible reappearance of a criminal group, who were distributing blankets among the homeless.

“I tweeted this information because, just like any other journalist or reporter, the important thing is to inform, right?” the journalist said in an interview with Animal Político. But during her live broadcast on Wednesday 22 January at about 13:15, the journalist received a visit from a person who identified himself as an Investigating Officer. He notified her that she was under investigation for “organized crime.”

“At first I thought he’d come because he wanted help broadcasting news of a criminal investigation. Sometimes we provide that type of service on the program. But instead he wanted to know what I do, the activities I pursue, where I live. I asked him why he was interested. It was then that he told me I was under investigation by the Attorney General for what I had tweeted,” Sofía said.

The investigator handed the reporter a document from the head of the Fifth Investigative Unit Specialising in Crimes against Freedom of Expression in the Federal Attorney General’s Office in Oaxaca. The director, Alfonso Jarquín Díaz “urgently” ordered a “detailed and exhaustive” investigation into Valdivia for organized crime or whatever else comes out.” Sofía could not obtain a copy of that document because it dealt with “something internal.”

The investigator told her she should be alert to the fact that in a few days she would receive a subpoena to testify about the information she had published. Likewise, the investigator questioned her about who had given her the information, how it had been sent, and, among other things, from which telephone. “I wasn’t the only person who spread this news, so are they going to investigate the whole world for one tweet?” asked the presenter.

“I’m trying to defend freedom of expression, not just myself,” said the journalist.

Until the afternoon of 23 January, Sofía still had not received a subpoena to testify.

“It worries me that I am being investigated for something I published on Twitter. I am going to keep on working, because that’s what I do. I am a journalist,” she said.

Freedom of expression NGO Artículo 19 said that the investigation against Sofía “equates informing about organized crime with the commission of a crime.”

Journalist Paola Morales reports for Mexican online news site AnimalPolítico. This story was first published on 23 January 2014 with the title, ‘Por un tuit, PGR investiga a periodista por “delincuencia organizada.’ Follow her on Twitter @paolamoralesm. The original story may be found here: http://www.animalpolitico.com/2014/01/art-19/#ixzz2rK4JIpoD

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

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,