Category: Press Releases, The Americas, Mexico
By: Scott Griffen, IPI Press Freedom Adviser

Two photographers killed in Mexico

Source points to possible connection to organised crime

Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui and other colleagues, relatives and friends of murdered journalists place candles and pictures in an altar erected at the Independence Angel monument in Mexico City on May 5, 2012 during a vigil to protest against violence towards the press. AFP PHOTO/Yuri CORTEZ

By: Scott Griffen, IPI Press Freedom Adviser

VIENNA, Aug 21, 2012 – Police in the Mexican state of Michoacán over the weekend discovered the dismembered body of a missing photojournalist said to have covered organised crime for a local newspaper. 

An inside source at the newspaper, Diario de Zamora, told AFP that Arturo Barajas, 46, had worked sensitive beats on a contractual basis. “When there were major incidents with three or more deaths, or when the military participated in confrontations, raids, or seized narcotics labs, we asked him (Barajas) for information and photos,” the source said. 

Later, however, the newspaper appeared to backtrack on the source’s comments, emphasising that it relied on local news agencies, not contractual labour, for coverage of crime, news reports said. Police also declined to confirm to media outlets rumours of Barajas’s journalistic activities, indicating instead that Barajas worked primarily as a contract photographer for parties and tourists. 

The bodies of Barajas and 26-year-old José Antonio Aguilar Mota, also a photographer, were found in the trunk of an abandoned car alongside a highway near Ecuandureo, Michoacán, multiple reports indicated. The state prosecutor’s office said that both had been shot in the head, while several Mexican sources, including Vanguardia, reported that the men appeared to have been tortured. 

According to a local Michoacán paper, Provincia, family members had alerted authorities after the pair failed to return home last Thursday. Provincia also reported that the car in which the bodies were found, a white Volkswagen Jetta, belonged to Barajas.

Torture and mutilation are tragically common among journalistic murders in Mexico. In May, the brutalised, dismembered bodies of three journalists were found dumped in a wastewater canal near Boca del Río, Veracruz. Similarly to what has been asserted in Barajas's case, the three had worked as freelance photojournalists covering crime for local media. Earlier this month, Veracruz authorities declared that detained members of the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel had allegedly confessed to the crime, an announcement that has been met with suspicion.

In all, six journalists have been killed this year Mexico in connection with their work, according to the International Press Institute (IPI) Death Watch. Five journalists have been killed in Michoacán since 2006, making the Pacific coastal state Mexico’s fourth deadliest for the media (Veracruz is first, with 11 killings since 2006). The danger was underscored earlier this month after celebrated investigative journalist and IPI World Press Freedom Hero Lydia Cacho was forced to flee the country after what she said were credible threats to her life.

IPI Deputy Director Anthony Mills said: “Police in Michoacán need to investigate all angles of this case, including the possibility that Arturo Barajas was killed in connection to his reported work covering organised crime. Given the frequency and impunity with which journalists in Mexico are targeted, there is no excuse to leave any stone unturned.”

IPI has consistently urged the Mexican federal government to address the extraordinary threat to Mexico’s media, and has called upon Mexico’s presumptive president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto, to prioritise the safety of journalists. 

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