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Death threats against "El Mundo" photographer and journalist over drug trafficking coverage; more details on disappearance of Michoacán journalist

(IAPA/IFEX) - The following is a 6 December 2006 IAPA press release:

IAPA alarmed at violence unleashed against journalists in Mexico

MIAMI, Florida (December 6, 2006) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today called the present wave of violence being unleashed against journalists in Mexico "an alarming situation" and reiterated its concern at the disappearance of a newsman in Michoacán and death threats made against two others in Veracruz.

"It is urgent that the government of Mexico, news media and journalists in general take immediate action to put an end to the wave of violence in Mexico, which has become one of the countries of greatest risk for news-gathering," said Gonzalo Marroquín, chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information.

José Antonio García Apac, editor of the weekly Ecos de Tepalcatepec in the southwestern state of Michoacán, has been missing since November 20. The state authorities were informed of his disappearance five days later.

According to family members, García Apac, 50, contacted his son on November 20th to let him know that he was returning to Morelia, the state capital, from Tepalcatepec where he had gone several days earlier. His whereabouts have remained unknown since then. According to the State Attorney General's Office, García Apac is believed to have been dragged from his car by two people in a pick up truck. According to his colleagues, he had ignored a warning he received two months earlier.

Marroquín, editor of the Guatemala City, Guatemala, newspaper Prensa Libre, stressed how important it is for federal authorities to assume responsibility for "prompt and in-depth investigation into the murders, disappearances and attacks on journalists in order to determine whether they were connected with their work and to bring the full weight of the law to bear on those who instigate and carry out such crimes."

Meanwhile, in the southeastern state of Veracruz news photographer Saúl Contreras, from the newspaper El Mundo in Córdoba, was riding his motorcycle on the Fortín to Huatusco highway on the evening of Saturday, December 2 when four men in a vehicle forced him at gunpoint to stop, beat him up and shouted at him, "You're the next one sentenced to die for what you have been publishing!"

Contreras managed to escape with his life. He said his assailants fled, apparently because other vehicles were approaching with bright headlights.

Another El Mundo journalist, Rafael Saavedra, was also threatened last Sunday. In an editorial his newspaper attributed both death threats to organized crime. "The offense: reporting on things linked to drug trafficking," the paper declared. Both journalists filed formal complaints with the local police.

A journalist in Veracruz was murdered on November 21. He was Roberto Marcos García, who covered the police beat.

So far this year - one of the most violent against journalists in Mexico - in addition to Roberto Marcos García also murdered were: Adolfo Sánchez Guzmán, (November 21), José Manuel Nava Sánchez (November 16), Misael Tamayo Hernández (November 10), Bradley Ronald Hill (October 27) and Enrique Perea Quintanilla (August 9). The case of José Antonio García Apac was preceded by the disappearance of Rafael Ortiz Martínez on July 8 this year and that of Alfredo Jiménez Mota on April 2, 2005.

The book "Risks Map for Journalists," an IAPA investigative report available on the Web site , concluded that today in Mexico there is "a serious threat to the unfettered of journalism.. Organized crime, protecting its own interests, has emerged in various parts of the country as journalists' censor and overseer. In some places the evidence is palpable, in others it is harder to identify because it is surreptitious and disguised. The overwhelming majority have opted for self-censorship. They don't investigate or even report on the crime bosses or their far-reaching tentacles. In those cities or regions where journalists dare to confront the challenge, the response is threats, pressure and harassment, and in the worst of cases, death."

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