Judicial Roulette: The current Mexican judicial system from a journalist’s perspective

Originally published in Reforma, February 15, 2017 as “Ruleta Judicial”.

By Sergio Aguayo
Twitter: @sergioaguayo

Dr. Sergio Aguayo, professor at the Colegio de México and journalist, currently facing a very grave threat to his freedom of expression and academic research under the Mexican judicial system.

Dr. Sergio Aguayo, professor at the Colegio de México and journalist, currently facing a very grave threat to his freedom of expression and academic research under the Mexican judicial system.

It is difficult to achieve justice in Mexico. The judicial system is designed to protect the powerful and punish the critics.

I confirmed this Mexican truism in the course of the first six months of litigation with Humberto Moreira, the former president of the ruling party (PRI or Party of the Institutionalized Revolution). Eight months ago Moreira sued me for 10 million pesos (about US$500,000 thousand dollars), in compensation for the harm I had caused to his “feelings, emotions, beliefs, decency [and] reputation” in a column I wrote on January 20, 2016, while Moreira was in jail in Spain because, in the view of the National Court of that country, he had committed the “crimes of money laundering, membership of a criminal organization, […] misappropriation of public funds, and bribery.” After my column was published he was exonerated.

Moreira has done well in his lawsuits, and ended 2016 emboldened. In December he declared to a Coahuila website that “they throw punches, I’ll throw lawsuits.” He is confident about emerging victorious from his litigation, and in a show of bravado to another website avowed that “we’re going to have to build three or four more Ceresos [jails] to find room for all the loudmouths.”

Understandable posturing. He has the means to pay his lawyers and appears to be favored by the Mexican president. José María Irujo wrote in El País that when he was jailed in Madrid the administration of Enrique Peña Nieto “placed at his disposal the entire diplomatic and legal machinery of its embassy in Spain in order to […] establish his legal situation, […] support his family, and get him out of jail.” Last week I experienced the opposite: the embassy of Mexico in Spain refused me the assistance I requested to obtain an urgent power demanded by a federal judge who is examining an aspect of the lawsuit.

A Mexico City judge, Alejandro Rivera Rodríguez, has also protected him. At the beginning of the lawsuit—in September 2016—he ordered the National Banking and Securities Commission to hand over my bank statements to Moreira; unnecessary because I have not been convicted. My lawyers lodged an appeal; the judge accepted it, but imposed a guarantee of about US$10,000, covered with an emergency loan from El Colegio de México (I am a professor there). Last week, the judge ordered that this money be handed to Moreira’s lawyer, who is not even a party to the litigation.

The judge also authorized a psychological evaluation, with questions prepared by Moreira that condemn me in advance. Observe the wording: “The expert must determine whether, as a result of the discrediting, insults, mockery and false accusations of corruption, theft and links with organized crime attributed by […] Sergio Aguayo Quezada [to] Humberto Moreira Valdés his image and credibility as a public figure has been insulted.” We have already requested the judge to be changed from the   Council of the Judiciary.

I have consulted colleagues who have been sued for moral damages and the pattern is similar. For Lydia Cacho the “judicial system is the executive arm of the personal revenge of politicians”; for Miguel Badillo: “Mexican justice is corrupt”; La Vanguardia de Coahuila has been through a “terrible” experience; and Javier Quijano Baz, lawyer of Carmen Aristegui, considers that a large number of Mexican judges are “ignorant” or “corrupt.”

Michel Forst, United Nations rapporteur on the situation of journalists and human rights defenders, agrees with these statements. In a report dated January 24, 2017, he states that in Mexico there is a “deliberate misuse of law” and that “filing unfounded complaints” against journalists and human rights activists is a form of intimidation.

The troubling experiences of recent months have been balanced by the solidarity, affection and support of countless readers and organizations such as Article 19— my representative—and the Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists. My lawyers—Héctor and Sergio Beristaín—believe that we will win because there are honest judges. Lydia Cacho always hoped to “find those few ethical and responsible judges” and Rosa Esther Beltrán, a columnist for La Vanguardia de Coahuila who has also been sued, encountered a decent judge.

I hope to emerge safely from this encounter with the roulette of an expensive, slow and unpredictable legal system. For the moment, the only certainties are that the government of Enrique Peña Nieto and a judge in the capital city favor and protect Humberto Moreira, former governor and former president of the PRI.

With the support of: Maura Roldán Álvarez.

***As part of Justice in Mexico’s ongoing support for journalists committed to human rights, transparency, and justice, Justice in Mexico has created a GoFundMe donation page to contribute to Sergio Aguayo’s legal defense fund. For those who wish to support and protect freedom of expression in Mexico, please consider donating to Sergio Aguayo’s legal defense fund. Details can be found at: https://www.gofundme.com/SergioAguayo

Former Governor sues Mexican academic and activist Sergio Aguayo for editorial

 

Renowned Mexican journalist and social activist, Sergio Aguayo, has been sued by former Governor of Coahuila and former President of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI), Humberto Moreira Valdés, for alleged moral damage to his reputation from an opinion piece published by Aguayo in January 2016.

Renowned Mexican journalist and social activist, Sergio Aguayo, has been sued by former Governor of Coahuila and former President of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI), Humberto Moreira Valdés, for alleged moral damage to his reputation from an opinion piece published by Aguayo in January 2016.

8/9/16 — On July 15th, renowned Mexican journalist and social activist, Sergio Aguayo, was sued by  former Governor of Coahuila and former President of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI), Humberto Moreira Valdés, for alleged moral damage to his reputation from an opinion piece published by Aguayo in January 2016. The article, which called Moreira corrupt and an “example of impunity,” was published shortly after Moreira was arrested in Spain for alleged ties to organized crime and money laundering. Moreira was released a week later by Spanish authorities due to lack of evidence.

Sergio Aguayo is a well-known Mexican journalist and human rights activist who grew up in Guadalajara. He has taught at various universities in Mexico, Europe, and the United States, including ties to the University of California-San Diego and Harvard University. He appears regularly on television programs to discuss politics and publishes articles weekly for several newspapers in Mexico including Reforma. He is well known for his academic work on Mexican politics and law enforcement, including his books La transición en México and La Charola.

The former Governor submitted a petition on June 28, 2016 demanding $555,000 (USD) and a public apology from Aguayo for publishing the opinion piece. The petition was admitted by the 15th Civil Court of Mexico City (Juzgado 15 de lo Civil del Tribunal Superior de Justicia del Distrito Federal (TSJDF)) on June 30, 2016. Aguayo hypothesized on his personal website that Moreira has come after him because he is researching the 2011 Allende massacre that occurred in Coahuila. Moreira was Governor of the State of Coahuila from December 1, 2005 –  January 4, 2011. The massacre led to the disappearance of more than 300 people as a result of Los Zetas organized crime activity in the area. On Sergio Aguayo’s website, he also questions why the former Governor brought charges against him nearly six months after the article’s original publication and why Moreira targeted him when several other journalists have made similar assertions about Moreira’s character. Aguayo claims Moreira is using the lawsuit as an intimidation tactic.

Political pressure and violence targeting journalists in Mexico has attracted significant attention in recent years. High profile journalists like Carmen Aristegui have been fired due to critical investigations of the Mexican government. Also, Mexico is frequently cited as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. More than 11 journalists have been murdered since 2014 and many others are regularly intimidated, censored, and directly attacked. The lawsuit against Aguayo has been denounced by numerous academics and several human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the Freedom House, claiming that it is unacceptable to use intimidation tactics to hinder freedom of speech by journalists.

The Mexican online forum El Palenque has started a petition for those interested in supporting Sergio Aguayo, and a legal defense fund has been created by Justice in Mexico in Aguayo’s name for those who wish to help defray the cost of legal fees incurred by the lawsuit.

 

Four journalists killed in Mexico during first third of 2016

Journalist killed in Mexico

Journalist Francisco Pacheco Beltrán was murdered April 25, 2016. Photo: Diario de México.

05/07/16 (written by kheinle) – Journalists continue to face grave danger in Mexico, as evidenced by the recent homicide of journalist Francisco Pacheco Beltrán (55) in Guerrero. HIs death marks at least the fourth journalist killed in Mexico in 2016, putting the country on pace to more than double the number of journalists killed in 2015, according to data from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Pacheco was murdered by assailants in the early morning outside his home in Taxco, Guerrero on Monday, April 25 with two shots to the back of the head.

Violence Against Journalists

Pacheco played a number of roles in media, working as a reporter for Sol de Acapulco, editor for Foro de Taxco, and contributor to Capial Máxima, while covering several different areas, namely tourism and social media. According to CPJ, he also had a personal website that he used to report on regional crime and violence, and some said to also criticize local authorities. Reports could not confirm, however, if Pacheco’s murder was tied to his work as a journalist and, if so, to his alleged criticism of local authorities. Pacheco’s family said he did not feel threatened or in danger, but his work did cover Taxco, which is nearby to Iguala, Guerrero, both locations that have been hot spots in Mexico since the 2014 disappearance and presumed murder of 43 students from Ayotzinapa.

Journalists map 2000-2015, Justice in Mexico

Source: Justice in Mexico.

National and international voices immediately condemned Pacheco’s murder and called on authorities to investigate and hold accountable those responsible. “The endless cycle of violence against Mexican journalists is devastating the press,” wrote CPJ’s Carlos Lauría. “Federal authorities must thoroughly investigate the execution-style murder of [Pacheco] and exhaust all possible motives, including links to his work as a journalist.” The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, echoed Lauría, saying, “I condemn the murder… I call on the authorities to investigate this killing, which undermines the media’s ability to do their work and limits people’s access to information.” Mexico’s Executive Commission with Attention to Victims (Comisión Ejecutiva de Atención a Víctimas, CEAV) and the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (Fiscalía Especial para la Atención de Delitos cometidos contra la Libertad de Expresión, FEADLE), which operates under the Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR), have since launched an investigation into Pacheco’s death, beginning to interview the victim’s family in early May.

Pacheco’s death reflects Mexico’s continued status as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists. Mexico was the sixth deadliest country in the world in 2015 for journalists, with four media workers murdered in the year out of 49 worldwide, according to CPJ. Only France (8 journalists), Brazil (6), South Sudan (5) Bangladesh (5), and Iraq (5) had more. Of the four journalists killed in Mexico in 2016, according to CPJ only one, Marco Hernández Bautista (January 21 in Oaxaca), was killed with a confirmed motive. The murders of the other two, Anabel Flores Salazar (February 8 or 9 in Veracruz) and Moisés Dagdug Lutzow (February 20 in Tabasco), were unconfirmed. Pacheco’s case is still being investigated.

Justice in Mexico’s recently released annual report, “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2015,” further explores the numbers behind the dangers for journalists in Mexico. Using its Memoria dataset, which is less conservative than CPJ’s because it takes into account cases of both media workers and journalists who may have been victims of intentional homicide for a variety of motives not limited to their reporting, Justice in Mexico has identified at least 132 journalists and media-support workers murdered in Mexico from 2000 to 2015. The vast majority of these deaths (123) occurred in or after 2006. In 2015, Justice in Mexico entered 15 media workers into the Memoria dataset, the same number recorded in 2014.

 

Sources:

“Journalist Anabel Flores Salazar death in Veracruz highlights danger members of the media face in Mexico.” Justice in Mexico. February 17, 2016.

“Mexican reporter shot to death in Guerrero state.” Committee to Protect Journalists. April 25, 2016.

Press Release. “Director-General urges investigation into murder of journalist Francisco Pacheco Beltrán in Mexico.” UNESCO. April 27, 2016.

“Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2015.” Justice in Mexico. April 29, 2016.

“PGR atrae investigación del asesinato del periodista Francisco Pacheco.” Noticieros Televisa. May 4, 2016.

“10 Journalists Killed in 2016/Motive Confirmed.” Committee to Protect Journalists. Last accessed May 7, 2016.

“36 Journalists Killed in Mexico since 1992/Motive Confirmed.” Committee to Protect Journalists. Last accessed May 7, 2016.

“Memoria.” Justice in Mexico. Last accessed May 7, 2016.

Journalist Anabel Flores Salazar death in Veracruz highlights danger members of the media face in Mexico

Anabel Flores Salazar

Journalist Anabel Flores Salazar was kidnapped on February 8. Her body was found one day later in neighboring Puebla. Photo: EFE.

02/17/16 (written by kheinle) – The death of journalist Anabel Flores Salazar in Veracruz has kept the spotlight on Mexico and the Peña Nieto administration, particularly regarding the government’s failure to protect journalists. Flores was abducted from her home in Veracruz in the early morning hours of Monday, February 8 by assailants dressed in military uniforms who claimed to have a warrant for Flores’ arrest, reports Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Her body was discovered in Puebla the day after.

Anabel Flores Salazar was a crime reporter for El Sol de Orizaba newspaper. Crime reporters are often the media workers that cartels and gangs target out of retaliation for information or a story being published. In addition, there was speculation that Flores may have had an alleged connection with a member of an organized crime group. According to the Veracruz State Government, in August 2014, Flores was investigated for having ties to Víctor Osorio Santacruz, “El Pantera,” an alleged member of Los Zetas. Flores’ family denies it, writes CPJ, saying she was simply having dinner at the same restaurant El Pantera was dining when he was arrested.

Regardless, Anabel Flores Salazar’s alleged murderer, Josele Márquez Balderas, “El Chichi,” of Los Zetas, has been identified and detained. El Chichi controlled Orizaba and Córdoba in Veracruz, the territories Flores covered as a reporter. The suspect was actually detained along with six other gang members one week before Flores was kidnapped, though he is thought to have orchestrated Flores’ murder from behind bars. Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte took to Twitter to show the alleged connection between Flores and El Chichi, re-circulating a message Flores had posted under a pseudo name to report on El Chichi’s arrest and fallout. El Chichi was initially arrested for his lead role in the 2011 attack on the offices of a daily newspaper in Córdoba, El Buen Tono. Following the connection to Flores, El Chichi was transferred from the medium security prison, La Toma, in Veracruz to the maximum-security prison, Ceferso, in Jalisco.

Governor Duarte continued on Twitter after El Chichi’s transfer, highlighting the risk journalists face in Veracruz at the hands of organized crime groups. “The enemy in #Veracruz for journalism and freedom of speech is organized crime,” he posted. “Except for the case of [slain journalist] Regina Martínez,” he continued, “the other cases where there have been journalists killed in #Veracruz have been done by organized crime.”

Governor Duarte’s posts drive home the reality that Veracruz, let alone Mexico as a whole, is one of the most dangerous places for journalists to work in the world. According to Committee to Protect Journalists, including Flores’ death, “at least 12 journalists have been murdered in Veracruz since Javier Duarte de Ochoa became governor in 2010. Three more have disappeared, their whereabouts unknown.” The growing numbers coupled with the impunity the majority of the perpetrators have faced have led to calls for Governor Duarte’s resignation, including from CPJ’s Senior America’s Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría. In an article published after Flores’ death, Lauría exclaims, “Gov. Duarte has a deplorable record when it comes to investigating crimes against journalists. The majority of [such] cases have never been resolved.” He continues, “The government of Veracruz [has a] tendency to minimize any relationship between the murders and the journalistic work of the victims.” Flores’ death thus brings to the surface the dangers journalists face in Mexico, particularly in Veracruz, and the impunity that often follows.

Mexico is the sixth deadliest country in the world in 2015 for journalists, with four media workers murdered in the year out of 49 worldwide, according to CPJ. Only France (8 journalists), Brazil (6), South Sudan (5) Bangladesh (5), and Iraq (5) had more. Meanwhile, Justice in Mexico’s ongoing project, Memoria, recorded at least 12 journalists killed in Mexico in 2015. Unlike CPJ’s data, not all were necessarily killed because of their occupation working in news and media.

Sources:

“Investiga FGE desaparición de reportera policiaca, en Mariano Escobedo.” Veracruz State Government. February 8, 2016.

“Body of missing Veracruz crime reporter Anabel Flores Salazar found in neighboring state.” Committee to Protect Journalists. February 9, 2016. 

Lauría, Carlos. “El gobierno de Veracruz debe renunciar.” Univisión. February 11, 2016.

Lauría, Carlos. “Why the governor of Veracruz should resign.” Committee to Protect Journalists. February 12, 2016.

“Vinculan a líder Zeta con muerte de reportera.” El Universal. February 13, 2016.

Zamudio, Isabel. “’El Chichi’ ordenó el asesinato de la reportera: Duarte.” Milenio. February 14, 2016.

“49 Journalists Murdered in 2015.” Committee to Protect Journalists. Last accessed February 16, 2016.

“Memoria.” Justice in Mexico. Last accessed February 16, 2016.

Violence and censorship against journalists: Interview with Adela Navarro

Adela Navarro Bello, general director of Zeta. Image: Erin Siegel, The Toronto Star.

Adela Navarro Bello, general director of Zeta. Image: Erin Siegel, The Toronto Star.

As violence against journalists continues in Mexico, Justice in Mexico Contributor Leticia Corona sat down with Adela Navarro, the general director of the Tijuana based Zeta newsmagazine, to discuss the ongoing issue that undermines her profession and endangers the livelihood of her and her colleagues. Navarro discussed her work as a female journalist in Mexico; how Zeta’s reporting has pressured the government to design and implement efficient strategies to combat organized crime and violence in Mexico; and her frustrations with former President Felipe Calderón’s (2006-2012) militarized public security strategy that continues under current President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018).

Navarro also spoke of the issue of press censorship in Mexico, caused by government and criminal organization pressures. She recognized the reality faced by her peers, and the “numerous media outlets that have published and said they are no longer going to cover or conduct investigations related to organized crime and drug trafficking.” Yet Zeta has defied censoring itself, even in the face of danger. Navarro explained,

“In Zeta’s case, what we did to help protect our reporters after the death of Zeta’s co-founder Jesus Blancornelas in 2006 is we started signing our stories like “Investigation of Zeta.” In reality, it is a team who is working on the stories about organized crime and drug trafficking, and not one single person. That way we do not expose our reporters. This has not prevented threats or attacks… but fortunately, nothing [too serious] has happened… At times we have had personal bodyguards from the Mexican military or the federal police. We just try to convey more responsible journalism every time, and each time more committed to protecting ourselves.”

Navarro began her work as a journalist with an interest in social justice, and a desire to serve the Mexican people. She has worked for 23 years at Zeta, and continues to be driven as a journalist to work for the greater good in bringing peace and justice to her country. She also acknowledges that Mexico’s challenges are a shared U.S.-Mexico responsibility, and therefore continues to work towards eliminating the impunity that plagues both countries. A prominent and well-recognized journalist, she has received the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom award (2007), and been named in Foreign Policy Magazine’s “Top 100 Global Thinkers” (2012) and Forbes Magazine’s “50 Most Powerful Women in Mexico” (2012, 2013), among others.