28 July 2010

Alfredo Jiménez Mota, a case that shook the Mexican press and which led to change

Journalist Alfredo Jiménez Mota, a specialist in organized crime and public safety topics for the newspaper El Imparcial, went missing on Saturday, April 2, 2005. His abduction was clearly linked to his reporting work in recent months, in which he published information about drug trafficking organizations operating in Sonora state.
Alfredo Jiménez Mota Reporter for the newspaper El Imparcial Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico Disappeared on April 2, 2005 Suspects: • Raúl Enrique Parra, drug trafficker murdered in November 2005 • David Garzón Anguiano, a.k.a. El Estudiante (The Student), identified by Mexican and U.S. authorities as a drug trafficker • Raúl Fernando Rojas Galván, former Deputy Chief for Criminal Proceedings of the Mexican Attorney General’s Office in Sonora • Reynaldo Zamora Zepeda, former Chief of Arrests in the Sinaloa State Police (PME) • The Salazars Group, an organization identified by the authorities as engaged in drug trafficking • Other state officials and former officials IACHR: • March 11, 2009, case submitted to the IACHR (reference no. P-348-09), under review for admissibility April 2, 2005: Alfredo Jiménez Mota disappears. April 6, 2005: The IAPA reacts immediately and the Rapid Response Unit investigates the case. April 14, 2005: The IAPA asks the authorities to create a special prosecutor’s office. August 30, 2005: The IAPA holds a Meeting of Editors and Publishers from Mexico’s northern border in Hermosillo. October 2005: The Chamber of Deputies sets up a Working Group to Follow Up Attacks Upon Journalists and News Media. December 2005: The IAPA creates the Fénix Project. 2006: The IAPA “Map of Risks” is published. January 26-27, 2006: The IAPA holds a conference titled “Drug Trafficking: Investigation and News Coverage,” Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. February 15, 2006: The government creates the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Dealing With Crimes Committed Against Journalists. June 26-27, 2008: The IAPA holds the 2nd Meeting of Editors and Publishers of the Mexican Republic, Mexico City; it requests a change in the public prosecutor’s office and making crimes against journalists federal offenses. July 2008: Editors and publishers organized by the IAPA present a legal proposal regarding such federalization. July 2010: The government creates the new Special Prosecutor’s Office for Dealing With Crimes Committed Against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE). 2006-2010: The IAPA holds four special seminars in Hermosillo. Journalist Alfredo Jiménez Mota, a specialist in organized crime and public safety topics for the newspaper El Imparcial, went missing on Saturday, April 2, 2005. His abduction was clearly linked to his reporting work in recent months, in which he published information about drug trafficking organizations operating in Sonora state. He was just 25 years old, he was tall and had a dark complexion. He was an honest newsman committed to his work. He was respected and lauded by his colleagues for the news sources he had accumulated and for his tenacity. At the time the names of journalists murdered or disappeared in Mexico were continuing to be added to a list of impunity that the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) has been compiling since 1987, including despite a change of government and political party in power since 2000 (when 11 journalists were murdered or abducted, in eight cases of which the IAPA had cause in its investigations to believe that the motive was their work1). The disappearance of Jiménez Mota was, however, the first such case to occur in Hermosillo, the Sonora state capital, and with it would begin a new phase in the country in which criminal gangs chose to demonstrate their power and silence journalists who bothered them, producing with corruption a cycle of impunity that would protect them. Given the serious nature of the fact, the tension existing in the newsrooms of media in Hermosillo and the importance of obtaining first-hand information that would be reliable in documenting the case, just a few days later the IAPA’s Rapid Response Unit (RRU) began to investigate in the city. Hearing testimonies from family members, colleagues, friends and executives of the various news companies enabled reconstruction of what had occurred in the days prior to the journalist’s disappearance and also a review of the case file facilitated documentation of the subsequent hours. In meetings with local officials questions were raised about their work and the results, which also enabled pressure to be brought to bear and valuable information to be obtained. As an essential show of solidarity, given the fear that there was, but in view of the need for replies for the journalists in the state, the RRU joined in the demonstrations that El Imparcial reporters organized and in the searches in various parts of the city, mainly in the desert surrounding it. There was no result. Solid facts Around midday on Saturday, April 2, 2005 Alfredo Jiménez Mota did his work as usual. He arrived at the Sonora State Public Security Ministry and State Attorney General’s Office press offices, where he sought up-to-date information, chatted with some reporters from other news media and left. Around 4:00 p.m. he went to the El Imparcial newsroom, but a few yards before reaching there, some three blocks away, as he was crossing the downtown Hidalgo Square two men approached him. He thought that they were tourists because they had a camera, but they began to photograph him, which scared him, he ran off and took refuge in a restaurant called Los Grillos, where he knew the owners and he stayed with them until he felt safe, even having something to eat there. Just before 5:00 p.m. Jiménez Mota arrived at El Imparcial and began to write his reports, a total of three of them, without saying anything to any of his colleagues about what had happened at the town square. Apparently at 8:45 p.m. he left the newsroom, according to an Internet closedown note on his computer. He arrived home and just after 9:00 p.m. he spoke with his friend, reporter Shaila Rosagel. They agreed to have some beers later with other friends and he told her that before seeing her he would be meeting with one of his contacts “who was very nervous,” but that it would only take a few minutes. He took a bath and some time between 9:00 and 10:00 p.m. he met with Andrés Montoya García, at the time assistant general manager of the Sonora State Penitentiary System. According to the statement made by this former official to the Sonora State Attorney’s Office they chatted while in a pickup truck as they drove around. The subject of the chat was delicate, it had to do with the release of an alleged drug trafficker nicknamed “El Estudiante” (The Student), who was considered by the authorities to be very dangerous, a matter that Jiménez Mota had already begun to report on. In his statement, contained in initial inquiries report number 90/95 of the State Attorney’s Office, Montoya García declared that he left Jiménez Mota at a supermarket and he knew nothing further about him, only that he had said he had to see another “contact.” In the case file there was no indication of verification of this statement. No eye-witness has been found to corroborate what happened afterwards. However, the record of the journalist’s cell phone shows that the last call he received that Saturday, at exactly 11:04 p.m., was from the then Deputy Chief in Sonora of the Mexican Attorney General’s Office, Raúl Fernando Rojas Galván, who was one of his main news sources or “contacts,” as the reporter used to call them. Rojas Galván was interrogated by the Sonora State Attorney’s Office. He at first denied having seen Jiménez Mota that April 2, he even denied having any relationship with the reporter. In that statement there were contradictions – on his being shown the list of calls that had been made to Jiménez Mota he declared, “Perhaps I called, but he did not answer.” The investigators then showed him that the call had lasted nearly two minutes – exactly 112 seconds – at which Rojas Galván again changed his version – “I don’t remember,” however he then said that the reporter had called him to ask him for some details, but that he had replied that he would have to request them from Social Communication . That was all. No further investigation was made, the official was relieved of his post and later was sent with the same position to Mexico state. On Saturday Jiménez Mota was no longer to be found with his colleagues. Sunday was his day off and neither did his friends see him then. On Monday, April 4, he did not turn up at the newsroom nor did he answer his cell phone, but nobody thought seriously about it, so did not go and look for him. The following day the search began when he did not arrive at work, his parents filed a formal complaint and the El Imparcial reporters began to mobilize on the streets, handing out leaflets, and publishing reports on the case. Mobilization in solidarity The IAPA immediately denounced what had occurred and called for the mobilization of all the authorities to locate Jiménez Mota. Given the lack of assurance of an impartial investigation on the part of the authorities, and the fact that in the same month two journalists had been killed2, the IAPA repeated a demand it had made some time previously, for the creation of a public prosecutor’s office that would specialize in investigation into attacks upon journalists and freedom of expression. The first response it obtained was a public statement by the then head of the Mexican Attorney General’s Office, Rafael Macedo de la Concha, in which he said that on April 14, 2005 such an office would be set up. But the administrative formality would be delayed, so the IAPA insisted that the case be taken up by the Mexican Attorney General’s Office, which happened 20 days after Jiménez Mota’s disappearance, the case being taken by the Public Prosecutor’s Organized Crime Specialized Office (SIEDO). Given the gravity of what had occurred and the lack of demonstration of clear and convincing action to find the missing journalist an IAPA special mission traveled to Mexico (on May 18, 2005) and held various working meetings with President Vicente Fox, the new head of the Mexican Attorney General’s Office, Daniel Cabeza de Vaca, and the SIEDO chief, José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos. They all claimed that there had been progress in the investigations, that those involved were members of organized crime and that the case would be solved, as other attacks upon journalists due to their work. The IAPA officers insisted on the creation of a public prosecutor’s office that could concentrate the investigations and have sufficient human and financial resources to be able to solve the crimes, given the gravity of the situation and the high degree of impunity prevailing. Barely one week later, as a first step, the president ordered the Mexican Attorney General’s Office to designate in each office located in the country’s states a prosecutor responsible for dealing with cases of attacks upon journalists. The follow-up of such cases amounted in just one year – July 2004 to July 2005 – to a total of five journalists murdered and one disappeared, which along with the increase in threats and pressure applied by organized crime gangs or corrupt officials gave rise to a state of terror and growing self-censorship as a means of self-protection, leading the IAPA to bring together the editors and publishers from Mexico’s northern border, those up to then most affected by those gangsters. The RRU visits to Hermosillo increased, as did the follow-up of the Jiménez Mota case, it being one of a disappearance with the possibility of his still being alive. Declaration of Hermosillo In an unprecedented move executives of 40 newspapers in the north of Mexico, accompanied by the Inter American Press Association, met on August 30, 2005 in Sonora state to discuss and seek solutions. The executives agreed to take six concrete steps to defend the work of the press and its mission – to inform the people. The document was called “Declaration of Hermosillo.” The meeting in itself was an unprecedented success in that it produced solidarity, communication and strength, and the agreements brought together the news companies of Mexico. The Declaration of Hermosillo introduced in Mexico a novel and never before utilized idea – the integration of an investigative team in which all the signatory newspapers would take part for a reporter from their newsrooms to join a working group that would go into depth in the investigations that would have cost the life of a reporter, with the results to be published in each of those newspapers. This group was to be called Fénix Project. Other agreements achieved in the Declaration of Hermosillo were to call upon federal and state governments, and the legislative and judicial branches, for them within their responsibilities to solve crimes against journalists and an undertaking to publish each case of reporters killed in Mexico that remained unsolved. It was agreed also to hold other meetings of editors and publishers from throughout the country, to develop training in how journalists can safeguard themselves. At the meeting it was held that it should not be waited for another journalist to be murdered in order to begin to undertake inquiries, so it was decided to investigate the Jiménez Mota case. The ongoing follow-up of this case and the result of the work of the Fénix Project led to, one year later, the publication in more than 40 newspapers in Mexico of a report on the investigations into the journalist’s murder, which revealed part of the plot that led to his death, the operation of major drug trafficking gangs in Sonora at the service of the big cartels and the limited actions carried out up to then by the authorities to solve the case. One of most revealing details in the work done by the group was that in Jiménez Mota’s disappearance federal and state officials might have been involved. The impunity surrounding the case was clearly demonstrated. The Chamber of Deputies some weeks after its period of sessions opened responded to the demand of the editors and publishers and in October 2005 created the Working Group for Following Up Attacks Upon Journalists and News Media, which brought about a systemization of the cases, proposals for various legislative reforms and making defamation and calumny no longer criminal offenses. A culture of safety To respond to the demand to build safe news coverage the IAPA held a seminar in Hermosillo that enabled reporters to take personal security action in their daily tasks. In addition, towards the end of the year the IAPA funded the sending of a group of 24 editors and reporters to be trained by Argentina’s “Blue Helmets” – CAECOPAZ – in reporting under risk. The holding of courses in Mexico increased, as did the work of the IAPA on extending solidarity among news media, on which a second meeting was held in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, given the wave of violence being unleashed against news men and women. At the same time, the IAPA continued denouncing at its General Assemblies and in national and international forums the lack of results on the part of Mexican authorities and demanding on an ongoing basis the creation of the special prosecutor’s office in the Mexican Attorney General’s Office. The National Human Rights Commission is actively taking part in the investigations in the Jiménez Mota case and the then head of the Attacks Upon Journalists and Defenders of Human Rights Program, Luis Raúl González Pérez, maintains that the journalist’s disappearance is emblematic, because it has to do with the “institutionalization of impunity.” In the continuing news coverage by the newspaper El Imparcial and the RRU there can be seen that several possible witnesses and persons involved have been killed in the months following Jiménez Mota’s disappearance, the majority of them members of criminal gangs. The training courses were extended to throughout the country, as a means of making reporters aware and given the growing intimidation of them in their work. At the same time, the IAPA has published its “Map of Risks to Journalists,” an investigation that has set out in detail what happened to Jiménez Mota and other journalists in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil. The Public Prosecutor’s Office On February 15, 2006 there was issued the agreement that created the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Dealing With Crimes Committed Against Journalists within the Mexican Attorney General’s Office. The following day it began its duties. Although it did not respond to the demands made for it to be more effective media executives and the IAPA waited to see what progress the new office might make. But the meager results in the following months forced the IAPA to insist that impunity was an encouragement for attacks upon journalists to continue, which in fact increasingly did so. Other international and Mexican bodies complained of the same thing and demanded results, but all that changed was the head of the office and less cases solved. The IAPA once again called together Mexico’s editors and publishers to continue carrying out the work and agreements. A specific proposal emerged to modify the public prosecutor’s office structurally, as well as a planned reform to make crimes committed against freedom of expression federal offenses, a document that was endorsed by more than 50 Mexican editors and publishers and jurists. Those documents were presented to the authorities in 2008. The IAPA special mission called for a change in public policies in order to ensure the safety of reporters who were now resorting to self-censorship throughout the country and that the cases be solved, one of them that of Jiménez Mota, who had disappeared four years earlier with no sign of his whereabouts nor who was responsible. Together with other organizations the IAPA answered the call made by the Chamber of Deputies Special Commission to follow up the cases of journalists, so as to present specific proposals that would lead to crimes against news men and women being made federal offenses. In the end a specific proposal was drawn up and introduced in the Chamber of Deputies, which was sent for review to the Justice Committee, and which the IAPA insisted should approve it but in fact it was amended in essence, an action which the IAPA harshly criticized. The measure has been on hold for a year. In a new IAPA mission held in 2010, with the support of the Mexican editors and publishers, once again a request was made to the Interior Minister and the Attorney General to restructure the public prosecutor’s office, that impunity be combated, guarantees be given to journalists, that crimes against freedom of expression be made federal offenses, and that there be no statute of limitations in such cases. They committed to do so, something that was formalized in July this year with a new agreement that provides the public prosecutor’s office with greater powers and obligations to carry out investigations into these cases. An unending battle, the IACHR In 2009, four years after the disappearance of Alfredo Jiménez Mota and given the clear demonstration of inaction on the part of the authorities and in light of the commitment by the IAPA to the journalist’s parents not to forget their son’s case, the Inter American Press Association documented the total lack of progress and the lack of political will to determine what had happened to the newsman in Hermosillo and submitted the document supported by a number of pieces of evidence to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. There has been no progress nor interest shown in the case, much less in reporting formally on what happened to Jiménez Mota, and the impunity is one of the main reasons that the situation of journalists in Mexico has deteriorated, such cases have been on the increase and none of them has been solved so as to bring those responsible to justice. As if that were not enough, the way of doing journalism in the majority of the country’s states has been changed in light of the pressure applied by the criminal gangs and corrupt officials, which has translated into fear and censorship, due to which there needs to be an intensification of the works, projects and points of pressure and solidarity in order to halt and reverse this situation which is noting other than the loss of society’s essential liberty. While Alfredo continues to be missing the actions that the IAPA carried out since his disappearance have impacted directly on the public policies of the Mexican government slowly but surely, but above all have been forging an alliance among many news media outlets, a way of working to achieve common goals and a new culture of safety in covering the news in Mexico, although the seriousness of the problem means that the results have not yet been that many, that is why the challenge continues and the IAPA is taking new creative paths that offer greater results. The Jiménez Mota case is still valid and the IAPA hopes that through the IACHR the Mexican government will come up with results shortly, and that the new head of the Attorney General’s Office’s Special Prosecutor’s Office will do the same. Who is Aflredo? • His full name is José Alfredo Jiménez Mota. • When he went missing he had been a journalist for five years, first in Sinaloa state, one of the most dangerous states and with the biggest presence of drug trafficking gangs, and then in Sonora. • He was born in Sonora, where his parents and his sister, who are still looking for him today, live. • He was one of the first reporters in Sonora to investigate the criminal gangs that operate in that state. That had previously been dfone by the editor of the San Luis Río Colorado newspaper La Prensa, on the border with the United States, but he was murdered in 1997. • In his reports, in which some of his colleagues also participated, he exposed the operations of two drug trafficking gangs and corruption in various government agencies. 1 The names of the reporters murdered or disappeared between 2000 and 2005 are: José Luis Ortega Mata, José Barbosa Bejarano, Saúl Antonio Martínez Gutiérrez, Félix Fernández García, Jesús Mejía Lechuga, Rafael Villafuerte Aguilar, Roberto Mora García, Francisco Ortiz Franco, Francisco Arratia Saldierna, Leodegario Aguilera Lucas and Gregorio Rodríguez Hernández. 2 the editor of La Opinón of Poza Rica, Veracruz, Raúl Gibb Guerrero, and the radio reporter in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Guadalupe García Escamilla.