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Journalist violence in Mexico - have we entered a new phase?

Journalist violence in Mexico - have we entered a new phase?

The brutal murder of freelance photographer Ruben Espinosa in Mexico City on 31st July has been a reminder of just how dangerous it is to be a journalist in Mexico. It might also be an indicator that violence against journalists has entered a worrying new phase.

In one sense, the murder of Ruben Espinosa is not a surprise. He is the 13th journalist working in Veracruz state in Mexico to be killed since 2011. Human rights organisation Article 19 say that Veracruz is now the most dangerous place to be a journalist in Latin America, and across the country, threats, violence and murder continue to be used as tools to silence those who report on corruption, organised crime and unwanted stories.

What is new about Espinosa's death, and particularly disquieting for Mexican journalists, is that he is the first displaced journalist to be killed in Mexico City. 

Most of the Trust's assistance for freelance journalists in Mexico has been given to those who are displaced.  During the last three years, we have supported seven freelancers who have been forced to flee their home towns because of threats and violence. Most, like Espinosa, have escaped to the capital, believing it to be the safest place to stay.  Espinosa's murder has changed all that.

"Most of my displaced colleagues feel protected when they are in Mexico City because it is a large place with many people", says Luis Cardona, a freelance journalist who has been supported by the Trust since 2014. Luis is part of a network of journalists who are living in exile in Mexico City. "But we are now in a kind of paranoia because of what happened to Ruben.  We don't want to be an easy target."

What is also worrying for Luis and other freelancers is that Espinosa was a high profile journalist, which is usually a protection against violence.  He worked for national press outlets and had received public support from human rights organisations such as Article 19, who had campaigned for his safety just weeks before his death.  Espinosa was outspoken but colleagues say he took his safety seriously. 

Mexico does not have a good reputation for impunity - CPJ say 90% of journalist killings in the last 10 years have passed without conviction - but many journalists now fear the deliberate unwillingness of those responsible for the safety of threatened journalists to do anything at all, even in the capital.

Luis Cardona says it was only a matter of time before the safety of Mexico's capital was threatened.  "One year ago my journalist colleagues and I were talking about the security situation and I told them, 'One day violence against journalists will hit Mexico City in a way that it has hit other states.  From that day things will change here'.  If two months ago journalists were wary about talking publically about their circumstances, there's less willingness now. We now need to take stock and think about our situation."

Rubin Espinosa was a talented and brave journalist. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues.

Catalina Cortes Castillo is Rory Peck Trust's programme officer for Latin America, the Caribbean and Training Bursaries. Find her on Twitter at @CatitaTurri.

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