OPINION

Photo: Times Kuwait

By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS

On Thursday, Jan. 27, the daily newspaper Infobae published an article noting that in 90 percent of the legal cases “investigated” by the Mexican government’s so-called Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists (MPPDDHP), no convictions are ever delivered.

This figure came from the administration’s own Interior Secretariat (SeGob), which oversees the MPPDDHP office, following the murder of three journalists so far this month, including one who had actually publicly appealed to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), noting that she believed her life was in danger from his close friend and political ally, former Baja California Governor Jaime Bonilla, who she said had made unveiled threats against her.

Since AMLO took office in December 2018, the federal government has registered 52 murders of journalists and 97 of human rights defenders. And only one in 10 of these cases ever went to court.

MPPDDHP head Enrique Irazoque even admitted that in cases of attacks against human rights activists and journalists, “impunity is greater than 90 percent” and noted  that in the 10 years since the creation of the MPPDDHP office “it seems that the state and local authorities are not fulfilling their responsibilities.”

In a printed statement, Irazoque, who is also the head of SeGob’s Human Rights Unit, said that the protection of journalists and human rights defenders is an obligation of the state and that the three levels of government in Mexico “have specific obligations and responsibilities to address the topic.”

Irazoque then tried to defend the MPPDDHP, saying the “of the registered homicides, only seven journalists and two (human rights) defenders were incorporated into the mechanism.”

There’s a reason for that.

Most journalists who appeal to the office are offered a little more than a sympathetic ear and sent away with empty promises that their cases would be investigated and “appropriate action” would be taken, only to later have their cases “dismissed.”

And for the record, I speak from experience.

In June 2019, I received some pretty serious death threats over the internet for an article I had published in Pulse News Mexico, and after talking with several colleagues who urged me to go to the MPPDDHP, I did just that.

At first, I was impressed by the fact that the mechanism office, which passed my case on to the Special Attorney General’s Office for Crimes Committed against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE), heard me out, reviewed my evidence and generally seemed to take my case seriously.

Every few weeks, the FEADLE would even send me a notice assuring me that my case was still under investigation, and finally, after several months, I was asked to appear at its offices, where I was shown photographs of the person who had allegedly made the threats, one Hugo Trejo Cervantes (a pretty scary looking guy who I would not want to meet in a dark alley), supposedly a resident of the northern state of Tamaulipas.

Again, I was told that my case would continue to be investigated.

In the mean time, the FEADLE ordered me to take a psychological exam (which I passed, by the way) and to present a series of documents to facilitate its “investigation,” which I did.

So far, so good…

But time went by and there were no more notices from the FEADLE.

Finally, on April 24, 2020 — 10 full months after the threats were made — I received an email from the Federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR)  informing me in a letter signed by Nahum Pedro Zárate, director general of the FEADLE, that my case had been closed.

The reason it had been closed, the letter explained, was that while Trejo Cervantes had apparently made the threats against my life, he had not acted on them, since I was still alive, and, moreover, I had “provoked” him by publishing the article that he found offensive — so, while I indeed had the right to express my opinions, he too had the right to “freedom of expression” to respond.

In other words, he had the right to threaten my life and intimidate me because I had “asked for it” by publishing my column.

With friends (and protection) like the MPPDDHP, who needs enemies? Or, to be more exact, why should Mexican journalists even bother to appeal to that office for help?

(Again, the for record, according to the MPPDDHP itself, there are currently 495 journalists under the protection of the mechanism, which is a figure that should be in itself a red flag that freedom of the press is in grave danger in Mexico.)

AMLO, with his daily diatribes against journalists and the media, calling them “corrupt” and “propagators of lies” without any semblance of evidence, much less due process, has essentially declared open season on the press in Mexico.

In his statement to Infobae, Irazoque admitted that nearly half of all threats and attacks on journalists — between 40 and 45 percent —  “come from local and municipal authorities,” with the remaining coming from “organized crime.” (He made no reference to threats from federal authorities.)

The vast majority of Mexico’s professional journalists (and, excuse me, but I am not referring to the horde of AMLO proselytes who grovel at his feet each morning and regurgitate the false “otros datos” he spiels out each day) strive to present verified and vetted facts, despite the constant threats and insults that are slung at them.

Sometimes we make mistakes, and for the most part, as responsible journalists, we own up to those mistakes and clarify our information.

But we are not “liars,” and we are not “corrupt,” and we do not deserve to be “legitimate targets” for those politicians or fanatics who feel like using us for target practice.

Lourdes Maldonado did not deserve to die. Neither did Margarito Martínez Esquivel or José Luis Gamboa. Or any of the other 49 journalists who have been killed under AMLO’s watch for doing their job.

Freedom of the press is a key element in any democracy, and vital to its survival.

It is not only the lives of reporters that are in danger in Mexico, but the nation’s democracy itself.

 

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