The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International (WiPC) is deeply alarmed by anonymous death threats received by author and journalist Lydia Cacho on 14 June 2011 and by the Mexican authorities' apparent lack of response. Cacho believes that the threats, which made direct reference to her journalism, stem from her naming of alleged sex traffickers in her writings. The threats come in the same month as the murder of two Mexican columnists and the abduction of one other journalist. In all, a total of 40 of print journalists and writers have been killed in Mexico since 2004, while 10 more have gone missing. The WiPC calls on the federal and state authorities to investigate the threats against Cacho and to provide her with protection as a matter of the utmost urgency. It also calls on the authorities to implement the journalist protection mechanisms it promised in November 2010 immediately.
On 14 June 2011, the award-winning author, journalist and social activist Lydia Cacho Ribeiro reportedly received anonymous death threats by telephone and email, following her return from an event in Chihuahua state in northern Mexico. The threats made direct reference to her journalism and she believes that they were made in retaliation for her revelation of the names of alleged traffickers of women and girls. In 2010, she published a book entitled Esclavas del poder: un viaje al corazón de la trata de mujeres y niñas en el mundo (Servants of power: a journey into the heart of the trafficking of women and girls in the world). She has also written extensively on people trafficking, organized crime, drug trafficking, gender violence and official corruption in her columns and other articles.
Cacho reported the death threats to the authorities but no investigation or other action had been initiated as of 29 June, when she decided to make the threats public. She commented that Notiver columnist Miguel Ángel López Velasco Milo (pen name Milo Vela) received similar threats which the authorities also ignored; he was shot dead along with his wife and son in Veraruz state on 20 June 2011 (see RAN 33-11). However, Cacho said she had no intention of giving up her journalism or human rights work.
In 2009 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted Cacho precautionary protective measures and asked the Mexican government to take action to protect her as a result of harassment and monitoring by armed men. However, to date only half of the measures have been implemented, according to Article 19, and she clearly remains at risk.
Following the publication of her 2005 book on child pornography in Mexico (Los Demonios del Edén: el poder detrás de la pornografía - The Demons of Eden: the power behind pornography), Cacho was illegally arrested, detained and ill treated before being subjected to a year-long criminal defamation lawsuit. She was cleared of all charges in 2007, but her attempts to gain legal redress for her treatment have been thwarted and she continues to be the target of harassment and threats due to her investigative journalism. Cacho was awarded the 2009 One Humanity Award from Canadian PEN, the 2008 Tucholsky prize from Swedish PEN and the 2007 Oxfam/Novib PEN Award for Free Expression, among numerous others. She was one of the subjects of the WiPC's International Women's Day action in March 2009 and International PEN's Day of the Imprisoned Writer action in November 2006. She is an Honorary Member of Scottish PEN. For more information on Cacho, click here.
Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to work as a journalist. Since January 2004, 38 print journalists and two writers have been murdered, while 10 print journalists have gone missing in the same period. Nine of the killings and three of the disappearances occurred in 2010 alone. Few if any of these crimes have been properly investigated or punished. PEN International believes that it is likely that many of these writers 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.
On 3 June 2011, PEN Canada, in collaboration with the International Human Rights Program at the Faculty of Law, University of Toronto, published a timely and provocative report on the situation in Mexico: Corruption, Impunity, Silence: The War on Mexico's Journalists (also available in Spanish). The same day Canada's national newspaper The Globe and Mail published an op-ed by John Ralston Saul, President of PEN International, on the report (also available in Spanish and French).
Reports on the latest death threats by:
- Article 19 (30 June 2010): http://www.article19.org/pdfs/press/lydia-cacho-threats-continue-as-authorities-fail-to-protect.pdf (English only)
- The Committee to Protect Journalists (29 June 2011): http://www.cpj.org/2011/06/death-threats-against-lydia-cacho.php (English only)
- Vanguardia newspaper (29 June 2011) http://www.vanguardia.com.mx/lydiacachodenunciaamenazasdemuerteporinvestigaramafias-1035075.html (Spanish only)