The murder of photojournalist Ismael Villagómez Tapia was recorded as the ninth attack against journalists nationwide so far in 2023. But this figure also means that every 37 days a journalist was murdered in México.
Sara Mendiola, director of Propuesta Cívica, an organization dedicated to accompanying human rights defenders and journalists, told this newspaper that there is 95 percent impunity at the federal level and 98 percent at the local level for the murder of journalists in the country.
And, as for the crime of disappearance, impunity reaches 100 percent, without any case of missing journalists having been clarified by the authorities, she said.
Due to this situation, at Circuito Frontera we took on the task of making a count of the journalists murdered during this year, with data from Propuesta Cívica, Unesco and journalistic articles published in different media, not only for the sake of listing these crimes but to put a face, name and context to the situation of violence faced by the journalists’ guild.
Journalists murdered in Mexico 2023
Abisai Pérez Romero (February 13) son politikon in tula México
He was reported missing on February 12 and his lifeless body was found on Monday, February 13.
Gerardo Torres Rentería (May 11) – Telemundo cameraman in Acapulco, Guerrero.
Reporter for Telemundo, TV Azteca Guerrero, Televisa Guerrero and correspondent for Reuters news agency, reportedly still working for local media. He was shot dead in his home.
Marco Aurelio Ramírez (May 23) – Journalist and former president of Tehuacán, Puela.
The journalist was attacked by armed men at around 13:45 p.m. when he was in his vehicle near his home.
Pablo Salgado (June 2) – Radio announcer and jaripeo reporter in Iguala, Guerrero.
The radio broadcaster was driving his truck on Periférico Sur Avenue in the Fermín Rabadán Luis Martín Sánchez Iñiguez (July 8) – La Jornada Correspondent in Tepic, Nayarit.
Luis Martín Sánchez Iñiguez (July 8) – La Jornada Correspondent in Tepic, Nayarit.
He was reported missing during the night of July 5 in Tepic, Nayarit. On July 8, the Nayarit Prosecutor’s Office reported that his body was found lifeless, along with a poster board with a handwritten inscription.
Nelson Matus (July 15) – Director of the portal “Lo Real de Guerrero” in Acapulco, Guerrero.
The journalist was in the parking lot of the department store located on Vicente Guerrero Boulevard when he was surprised by several men who shot him several times, hitting him in the body and head.
Jesús Gutiérrez Vergara (September 25) – Director of the Facebook page “Notiface” in San Luis Río Colorado, Sonora.
The journalist was outside his house talking with a group of municipal police officers, including the Chief of Transit, who was his neighbor, when they were shot at. The Attorney General’s Office reported that it was a direct attack on the uniformed officers.
Héctor Noguera Trujillo (November 9) – Broadcaster, writer and journalist in Puerto De Veracruz, Veracruz.
The journalist’s body was found in a bedroom of his home after he was murdered, presumably in a home invasion.
Ismael Villagómez Tapia (November 16) – Photojournalist for El Heraldo de Juárez (OEM), in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua.
The photojournalist was found inside a Hyundai vehicle at the intersection of Article 27 and Sinaloa streets in the Fronteriza Alta neighborhood at 1:53 a.m., when he was working as a driver for In Drive, according to the FGE. when he was intercepted by several armed men.
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Reign of impunity
During the year, newsrooms in the states of Guerrero, Hidalgo, Nayarit, Puebla, Sonora and Veracruz experienced not only the pain of losses in the guild, but also moments marked by anguish, fear, indignation and impotence, in the face of a prevailing state of impunity.
Following this latest attack on the journalistic guild, the director of Propuesta Cívica, Sara Mendiola, said that there is a need to strengthen criminal public policies, especially in cases of homicides against journalists, advocating for the creation of specialized criminal prosecution plans with a perspective focused on freedom of expression.
“Unfortunately at Propuesta Cívica, most of the cases we are currently representing are precisely of fellow journalists, murdered and disappeared in Mexico,” he commented.
Propuesta Cívica documented on its website 166 cases of murdered journalists and 30 disappeared, in a period from 2007 to 2023.
While Pedro Cardenas, coordinator of Protection for Article 19, said that from 2000 to date, the number of journalists murdered in Mexico totals 162, of which 14 were in the state of Chihuahua.
He indicated that there is concern about the persistence of violence against journalists in Mexico, as there is also a very high number of aggressions and threats.
“We are particularly concerned that this situation of murders and violence against the press continues. In fact, from 2000 to date, we have documented at least 162 murders of journalists linked to their work. So we are talking about a continuity of violence and a very high level of impunity,” he said.
Regarding the case of Ismael Villagómez, the director of Propuesta Cívica mentioned that there is concern after the statements made by the authorities of the State Attorney General’s Office, as she considered that they are statements that seem hasty and underestimate the potential relationship between crime and freedom of expression.
He also stressed the need for the authorities to seriously implement the homologated protocol of investigation for crimes against freedom of expression, a mandatory measure since 2018 for all prosecutors’ offices in the country.
“This is the great problem of crimes against journalists that are, in most cases, misunderstood by the authorities. So there we would have to be careful in establishing these hypotheses, even at the level of presumption, I think the Prosecutor’s Office has to do a serious investigation, an investigation in the context of freedom of expression and then be able to declare,” he said.
Map prepared by the authors with data from Propuesta Cívica and journalistic notes in the media.
He stated that the lack of political attention towards violence against journalists, mentioning the importance of not underestimating or minimizing death threats and proposed that the media take an active role in the protection of their collaborators, urging them to be alert and generate risk analysis.
“There is a need to strengthen public criminal policies, in the case of homicides against journalists, there is a need for prosecutors to really do their job and generate specialized criminal prosecution plans with this perspective of freedom of expression,” he said.
He also criticized the functioning of the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, highlighting its ineffectiveness in both prevention and reaction to cases of violence.
Meanwhile, Article 19’s Protection Coordinator called on the authorities, both the State Prosecutor’s Office (FGE) and the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Attention to Crimes Committed against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE), to carry out an exhaustive investigation to bring justice to Ismael Villagómez’s family.
Likewise he urged the local authorities to coordinate with the protection mechanism to implement security measures if the family so requests.
He considered that it is necessary to implement preventive measures, such as continuous analysis of violence, mechanisms for dialogue and comprehensive public policies to guarantee an environment conducive to the practice of journalism.
“We roundly condemn the murder of Ismael Villa Gómez. We express our condolences to his family and to his work team at El Heraldo and other media outlets throughout his life,”
During the first six months of this year, every 16 hours there was an aggression against journalists, as documented by the organization Artículo 19.
Pedro Cárdenas, coordinator of Protection of the organization, informed that in the first semester of the year they documented 272 aggressions against journalists, as well as the main tendencies were intimidation, threats and abuse of public power.
“There are the stigmatizations or discourses that qualify the press as an adversary, as ‘sold’ as ‘enemy’ (…) One concern is the judicial harassment, in this first semester, there were 12 processes initiated against journalists. We are talking about two processes, that is to say, two journalists per month that are being prosecuted civilly, criminally or administratively, for publishing information of public relevance”, he pointed out.
During the first semester of the year, the states with the highest number of aggressions against journalists were: Mexico City with 65 cases; Quintana Roo with 21 cases; Guanajuato with 19 and Puebla with 17, although this trend varies every year, he explained.
In the first semester of the year, the states with the highest number of aggressions against journalists were: Mexico City with 65 cases; Quintana Roo with 21 cases; Guanajuato with 19 and Puebla with 17, although this trend varies every year, he explained.
Cardenas recommended to always consider integral security as an important factor in their work, also to remember and maintain the demands to the authorities about their protection and human rights.
“We must remind the authorities that it is their obligation to protect them,” he said.
Tiger: Ismael Villagómez Tapia
Ismael Villagómez Tapia was affectionately known as Tiger and was currently working as a driver for In Driver, in addition to working as a photojournalist for El Heraldo de Juárez and, in the early hours of Thursday, November 16, a bullet ended his life, according to official versions.
That same day, the state attorney general in the northern region, Carlos Manuel Salas, declared in a press conference that they were keeping an investigation open to clarify this fact.
He said that no ballistic elements were found at the scene of the incident, and that the body of the photojournalist presented only a gunshot wound in the left eye.
Also that Tiger was located inside a Hyundai Elantra vehicle with border license plates, at the intersection of Article 27 and Sinaloa streets, in the Fronteriza Alta neighborhood, as well as the fact that the incident was reported to the 911 emergency service at 01:53 in the morning.
The prosecutor explained that, according to the information provided by his relatives, his usual shift at the newspaper extended until 11 o’clock at night, and at the time of the tragic event, he was working for the transportation service platform.
He also added that the agents who went to guard the crime scene documented that Ismael had his wallet and other belongings, however, they did not locate his cell phone.
Yesterday afternoon, Ramón Ortiz, director of Heraldo de Juárez, where Tiger worked, said that there is consternation at this loss and highlighted the difficult reality faced by the press in Mexico, where the lack of protection for journalists is evident.
The news of the death of “Tiger” was confirmed when the Prosecutor’s Office in the Northern Zone contacted Ortiz, offering its support and solidarity, as well as El Heraldo de Juarez, together with the journalist’s family, demands a thorough investigation of the facts.
He said, however, that so far, the media outlet maintains that there is no indication that the crime is directly related to Villagómez’s journalistic work.
The director of Heraldo de Juarez, which belongs to the Organización Editorial Mexicana (OEM), said that although “Tiger” had not received any threats related to his work or the publishing house, it is necessary to implement protection measures, especially for those journalists who cover sensitive areas such as public safety and investigation.
In the evening, El Heraldo de Juarez published an article in which it was reported that, according to internal sources in the State Attorney General’s Office, three people were arrested for the murder of the photojournalist, although the investigations revealed that it was an assault.
The media published the following: “We have three people in custody and they are giving their statements, they mention that they tried to assault Villagómez, but the struggle when he saw that there was a gun involved and he was shot in the back of the head, which went out through the eye”, said the investigating agent in charge of the case, who also confirmed the seizure of the weapon used in the crime.
No progress in legislation in Chihuahua
Ciudad Juarez, historically, has faced significant challenges regarding the safety of journalists, becoming once again one of the most dangerous places to practice journalism in the country, said Eduardo Borunda Escobedo, president of the Association of Journalists of Ciudad Juarez (APCJ).
He also expressed that there is a latent concern, after the fact that in the state of Chihuahua, despite the fact that it has a System for the Protection of Journalists, there is no State Law for the Protection of Journalists, and the initiative has been detained for 2 years in Congress.
“It is also a call to the Congress to unblock it, to approve it, to discuss it and to summon the media and journalists before voting on it”, he pointed out.
Even, just last August 24, the president of the State Commission of Human Rights of Chihuahua (CEDH), Néstor Armendáriz Loya, made known through a press release that it is necessary that the protection system be elevated to the rank of law, in order to guarantee freedom of expression and the full exercise of journalism in the state.
“That the necessary measures be taken, that the mechanism be strengthened or any type of action tending to guarantee the integrity and free exercise of journalism, which is also for the benefit of the citizenry so that it is better informed and more participatory,” said the ombudsperson in the document.
The president of the APCJ added that this Friday, November 17, at 11:00 a.m. a peaceful protest will be held at the Monumento al Papelerito, located within the Plaza del Periodista, at the intersection of Avenida de Los Insurgentes and Constitución.
This call not only seeks to honor the memory of “Tiger”, but also to send a clear message of rejection to the impunity that surrounds these crimes against the journalistic profession.
He also stressed the importance of joining forces to condemn these violent acts that not only affect communication professionals, but also have an impact on the social fabric and generate deep pain in the families of the victims.
Attacks against journalists in the world
According to Reporters Without Borders’ 2022 Annual Assessment Report, during 2022, the number of journalists killed worldwide was 57, an increase of 18.8 percent, compared to 2021.
The report revealed that almost 65 percent of the journalists killed in 2022 died in countries at peace, where Mexico recorded 11 journalists killed, representing 19 percent of the total number of information professionals killed this year.
It even surpassed the number of journalists killed in countries that maintain warlike conflicts, such as Ukraine, where the death of eight journalists was documented. In this sense, Mexico represented the country with the highest number of fatal attacks worldwide.
In Mexico, November 2 commemorates the Day of the Dead, but worldwide it is the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, so UNESCO published on its website that between 2006 and 2023, more than 1,600 journalists were killed worldwide.
Also, in 9 out of 10 cases, the murders remain unresolved, according to UNESCO’s Observatory of Murdered Journalists, so impunity leads to more murders and is often a symptom of the worsening conflict and the collapse of the law and judicial systems.
It is worth remembering that UNESCO keeps the #EndImpunity campaign active and last year they launched a provocative video that you can watch below.