Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Newspaper editor shot dead


José Alberto Velázquez López, editor and owner of the daily newspaper Expresiones de Tulum, based in Tulum, Quintana Roo state, and a contributor to a local television station, was shot dead in Cancún on 22 December 2009. Velázquez was driving home after a Christmas party for the newspaper staff when he was followed by two men on a motorbike who shot him in the chest, leaving him with serious wounds. He was taken to hospital but died late that night.

The newspaper staff had reportedly received several anonymous telephone death threats in the previous few months and its printing press was also firebombed in November 2009. Velázquez, who was also a lawyer, had reportedly written a number of articles accusing the mayor of Tulum of corruption, poor administration and a lack of regard for the public but had stopped reporting on local politics after receiving the death threats, which allegedly included a threatening phone call from the mayor. The mayor and Velázquez had reportedly been enemies since April 2009, the month that the newspaper was set up and that the mayor came into office.

State prosecutors in Quintana Roo have opened an inquiry into the murder. They are reportedly looking at two possible motives: Velázquez' work as a lawyer or that it was a crime of passion. However, his colleagues at Expresiones de Tulum have reportedly dismissed these leads, suggesting that the murder is instead likely to have been related to the editor's criticism of the mayor. Police investigations into the November 2009 firebombing of the newspaper premises have yet to yield any results.

Velázquez reportedly leaves behind a heavily pregnant wife and a five-year-old son.

Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to work as a journalist. From January 2004 to December 2009, a total of 27 writers - 26 print journalists and one author - were murdered, seven of them in 2009 alone. Five more print journalists have disappeared in the same period. Few if any of these crimes have been properly investigated or punished. International PEN believes that it is likely that these journalists were targeted in retaliation for their critical reporting, particularly on drug trafficking. While organised crime groups are responsible for many attacks, state agents, especially government officials and the police, are reportedly the main perpetrators of violence against journalists, and complicit in its continuance.

The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN (WiPC) protests the murder of José Alberto Velázquez López, editor of Expresiones de Tulum, who was shot dead in Cancún, Quintana Roo state, on 22 December 2009. The newspaper had been subject to attack, including death threats, in the previous few months and it is thought that Velázquez' murder may have been connected to his criticism of local authorities. He was the seventh print journalist to be killed in Mexico in 2009 and the 27th since 2004. The WiPC calls on the federal and state authorities to investigate this latest killing, along with all other unsolved journalist murders, as a matter of the utmost urgency, and to bring the culprits to justice. It also calls for the implementation of effective journalist protection programmes.

International PEN

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