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For freelance journalists in Mexico, life has never been more dangerous

For freelance journalists in Mexico, life has never been more dangerous

On Monday 15th May, one of Mexico’s most respected journalists, Javier Valdez Cardenas, was shot and killed near his office in Culiacan,Sinaloa.  He was the fifth journalist to be killed in Mexico since March - the sixth this year. RPT’s Catalina Cortés reflects on what this means for the country’s freelancers.

The Rory Peck Trust has been supporting freelancers in Mexico for almost a decade. In 2008 we set up a Good Practice Programme to raise awareness of the dangers they faced and establish practical measures for their protection. Depressingly, since then, violence has become an everyday part of life as a journalist in Mexico. But this year, with six journalists already killed and many more threatened, beaten, harassed and assaulted, the situation is worse than ever.  Impunity reigns and Mexico’s freelancers are feeling vulnerable and frightened.

The recent murder of Javier Valdez has contributed to this. Javier was a well-known, well-respected journalist with a national and international profile who was shot in broad daylight in the middle of the street. But there is also a greater sense of helplessness.  Freelancers no longer know how to protect themselves.  They don’t trust the police or the security forces and most have lost faith in the federal protection mechanisms that were set up to safeguard the lives of journalists in danger. Their own, self-made security measures aren’t working either.

The Trust is currently supporting the family of freelance journalist Cecilio Pineda who was killed in March after his government protection was withdrawn.  The crime reporter had refused to relocate after a violent attack in January. Three months later he was shot dead in a car wash.  Another grant is helping freelance photographer Jonatan Rosas rebuild his life in exile after men broke into his home in Veracruz state stealing all of his cameras and computers.  Jonatan had been working on an investigation into the murder of his freelance friend and colleague Ruben Espinosa and was advised to leave the country.

Last week, freelancer Fabián García Castrejón fled the western state of Nayarit after threats were painted on the wall of his home. The incident followed years of harassment for the investigative journalist. And on 12th May in the southern state of Guerrero, seven journalists were held at gunpoint, assaulted and robbed of their belongings and work equipment by a group of 100 armed men as they returned from covering a confrontation between state and federal security forces in the capital. These are just a few examples of how freelancers are being attacked across the country.

Research recently revealed that 41% of journalists in Mexico were reporting symptoms of PTSD - more than those covering conflict . When  I attended a 3-day trauma workshop in 2015, organised and funded by the Trust, I talked to one of the participants, Raziel Roldan - a freelance photojournalist based in Veracruz. He had seen colleagues harassed, attacked and murdered, and told me then, “things are getting more difficult here”.

If impunity continues at this level there is little chance that any effective change will happen soon. However, the Trust has been in discussion with local and international partners to see how we can strengthen efforts in response to the growing violence. We've joined Article 19 and others in condeming the rise in violence and calling for greater protection for independent journalists. As long as Mexico’s freelancers continue to do their work, we will continue to do ours - to support them in whatever way we can for the next decade and beyond.   
Image credit: Journalists protest against rising violence during march in Mexico, on 7 August 2010. © John S. and James L. Knight Foundation/Flickr 
Please help the Rory Peck Trust’s support freelance journalists in Mexico and around the world. Donate here.

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