Mexican police discover body of crime reporter outside of Oaxaca
Newspaper journalist is second killed in Mexico this month, third so far in 2013
By: Sasu Siegelbaum, IPI Contributor
VIENNA, July 18, 2013—The International Press Institute (IPI) called on Mexican federal authorities to immediately and thoroughly investigate the murder of a crime reporter in the state of Oaxaca.
According to Mexican media reports, Oaxaca police discovered the body of Alberto López Bello, a crime reporter for the regional newspaper El Imparcial, alongside that of Alejandro Franco, an intelligence officer with the federal police, on Wednesday morning near a creek to the west of the city of Oaxaca, the state capital.
Oaxacan state police said the bodies showed signs of torture — including various lesions and wounds and with legs and arms bound — which, police say, strongly indicates the work of organized crime.
“We send our deepest sympathies to the family, friends, and co-workers of both of these men,” said IPI Press Freedom Manager Barbara Trionfi, who traveled to Mexico in February this year on an IPI/WAN-IFRA press freedom mission focusing on journalist safety. “This terrible crime is a strong reminder of the importance of implementing recently passed legislation aimed at bringing an end to impunity in crimes against journalists through the intervention of federal authorities. As IPI has emphasised in the past, it is the sole responsibility of the Mexican government to ensure the safety of all journalists within Mexico’s borders and the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto must make this a priority.”
Trionfi added: “We call for an immediate and impartial investigation into this killing.”
Oaxacan State Attorney General Joaquín Carrillo said in a statement that police had also discovered wooden clubs and stones with traces of blood nearby. According to news reports, State Prosecutor Manuel de Jesús López, however, could not confirm that López Bello’s murder was directly connected to his journalistic work. Nevertheless, he did indicate that the journalist had recently been summoned before a federal prosecutor to discuss information related to an investigation into “narcomanta” (drug cartel advertising banners) around the city. On May 18, López Bello had also been detained by state police, along with another reporter, for taking photographs of narcomanta that authorities attributed to a local criminal organization.
López Bello, 28, had been reporting at El Imparcial for six years prior to his death. According to reports, he had turned up for work Tuesday morning, but decided to meet up with Franco, reportedly a close friend, in the afternoon at a bar in the city centre. According to witnesses, the two were then intercepted by unidentified individuals outside of the bar, where their motorcycles were left abandoned. The state prosecutor said that Oaxaca had recently experienced an increase in violent crime and murders, especially in its suburban areas, as a result of a turf war over the control of drug transport routes.
While Oaxaca has not seen the kind of violence against journalists that has smothered independent reporting in Mexico’s north and northeast, it has not been completely spared. In October 2006, Bradley Will, a U.S. journalist and cameraman based in New York City, was shot dead during a demonstration in Oaxaca. According to witness reports, he was shot in the torso by a plainclothes police officer and died on his way to a hospital. The investigation into Will’s murder is on-going. Two other journalists, Teresa Bautista Merino and Felicitas Martínez Sánchez, were killed in 2008.
The Mexican government has recently implemented two measures to fight the massacre of journalists—which has now claimed 57 lives—that has taken place since 2006, when an offensive against the country’s powerful drug cartels began. The first of these is a journalist-protection mechanism that allocates security measures and provides rapid assistance to reporters under threat. The second is a constitutional reform that gives federal authorities the power to investigate and prosecute crimes against journalists, which until recently were the province of local and state authorities.
IPI urges the Mexican federal government to resume responsibility for the López Bello investigation, as the Oaxacan state government has proven incapable of bringing those responsible for crimes against the media to justice. In 2010, a suspect in the Will killing spent 16 months in prison before being released for lack of evidence amid accusations that he had been falsely accused. Just this month, new questions have emerged surrounding the evidence being used to charge another suspect, Lenin Emelio Osorio Ortega.
In the report on their February mission, IPI and WAN-IFRA identified Mexican state governments as a major obstacle to defending press freedom in Mexico due to their failure to prosecute crimes against journalists with integrity and the efforts of some state governments to control information through the harassment and intimidation of journalists. The report also stated that the new Mexican federal government needed to work to fully implement the institutional measures designed to improve journalist safety.