Journalists in southern Mexico ‘live in terror’ of gang violence

MEXICO CITY (AFP) – Mexican journalist Julio Cesar Zubillaga shudders when his young daughter asks him why “they” want to kill him.

He spoke up after a fellow reporter’s murder and quickly felt the consequences: death threats and a gun attack on the office where his paper is printed.

His experience highlights southern Mexico’s status as among the most dangerous regions in a country that is one of the most dangerous in the world for journalists.

Zubillaga helped prepare the corpse of Pablo Morrugares, a journalist with digital newspaper PM Noticias, after gunmen killed both him and the policeman guarding him in a restaurant in Iguala in southern Guerrero state.

Zubillaga, the editor of Iguala’s La Tarde newspaper, issued a public plea for justice for the 48-year-old reporter, who had survived a 2016 attack.

A woman holds a sign reading “Justice for all. No to silence” as journalists, friends and relatives pay tribute to slain Mexican journalist Javier Valdez on the first anniversary of his murder, in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico. PHOTO: AFP

“It was a brutal assassination. I saw how Pablo looked. I had to dress him for those who wanted to come and see him off, but fewer than four colleagues came. Everyone is afraid. We live in terror,” he told AFP.

The following day Zubillaga received threats on social media, and on Tuesday gunmen opened fire on the offices of the Diario de Iguala, where his newspaper is printed.

“At least 10 journalists from Iguala have received death threats” from criminal groups, said Zubillaga, who has pleaded with the leftist government of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to provide protection.

Three other journalists have been murdered in Mexico this year: Jorge Armenta, Victor Alvarez and Maria Elena Ferral.

Since 2000, more than 100 Mexican journalists have been killed, and 92 per cent of the cases remain unsolved, according to press groups.

Early this year, videos circulated on social media in which armed groups threatened their rivals and several journalists. Intimidation is nothing new for Mexican reporters, “but we’re now seeing those threats being carried out,” Zubillaga said.

To protect himself, the 51-year-old editor rarely stays long at the same address, regularly changes his route to work and long ago stopped taking walks with his family.

“The most painful part for me is to get home and have my youngest daughter ask me: ‘Papa, why do they want to kill you? How long are you going to live?’” Zubillaga said, his voice breaking during a phone interview.

Given the threats, most reporters in Iguala have opted for self-censure.

“Many don’t want to speak, let alone publish,” said another journalist, speaking anonymously after having had to leave the city because his life was at risk. “You’re in the crossfire.”

“One group threatens you for publishing this or that information, and another (its rival) for not publishing it.”