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‘Behave,’ Says Governor of Deadliest State for Reporters in Mexico After String of Murders

"It's for your own good," said Gov. Javier Duarte of Veracruz, where 12 journalists have been killed since he took office. Six have been killed in Mexico so far this year, a tally on track to double from 2014.

by Daniel Hernandez and Gabriela Gorbea
Jul 9 2015, 7:00pm

Imagen por Felix Marquez/AP

He was editor of an independent digital news site in Mexico site called "Writing the Truth," was picked up by two men, then turned up dead a week later on a roadside, his body showing signs of torture.

Yet a special commission charged with protecting journalists in the state of Veracruz was quick to declare that Juan Mendoza Delgado met the end of his life by getting run over.

With Mendoza's death in the town of Medellin de Bravo, six journalists have been killed so far this year in Mexico, one of the worst countries in the world to practice the profession, international observers say.

In 2014, five reporters were killed overall, which means the current year is on track to double the tally of murdered journalists in Mexico from a year ago.

Mendoza's site covered hyper-local news in Medellin, near the Veracruz port: sports scores, vehicle accidents, minor protests. But "Writing the Truth" also delved into political news and crime reporting.

Like a lot of other community reporters holding several jobs to fund their work, Mendoza was also a cab driver, just like Moises Sanchez.

Sanchez — the editor of a local news outlet also in Medellin called La Union — was the first journalist killed in Veracruz this year. He also worked as a taxi driver and an activist. In early January, the editor was kidnapped from his house and found three weeks later decapitated in a roadside ditch near Medellin.

The suspected killer accused Medellin's mayor of ordering the crime, and the mayor then fled. At the time, Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte said of Sanchez: "He's not a reporter. He is a taxi driver and a social activist."

Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte, left, with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, center, at an event in February. (Photo via Gobierno de Veracruz)

Those sort of comments are considered normal for Duarte, who governs a state with the worst rate of violence against journalists in Mexico by far.

Since Duarte took office in December 2010, 12 journalists have been killed in Veracruz. Some tallies say 13, to include a reporter who worked for Veracruz news outlets but was killed this year just across the border with the state of Oaxaca.

Armando Saldaña — killed while making his way home in Oaxaca on May 4 — worked for two radio stations and several small newspapers in Veracruz.

The Isthmus region between the two states is quickly becoming a hotspot of violence against news reporters. On July 2, as reporter Filadelfio Sanchez drove away from the radio station La Favorita in the municipality of Miahuatlan, Oaxaca, gunmen chased his vehicle and shot him several times.

'Please behave, I beg you. It's for your own good.'

Two other reporters have been killed so far this year in the country, both in attacks in June.

In Guanajuato, Gerardo Nieto Alvarez, editor of El Tábano newspaper, was found in his office by his daughter with his throat slashed.

And in Tabasco, Ismael Diaz Lopez, reporter for the Tabasco Hoy newspaper, was stabbed in his house by unknown assailants. Authorities promptly said that a domestic dispute was most likely the reason for the attack.

Related: Mexican Mayor Accused or Ordering Citizen Journalist's Killing in Veracruz

Duarte has been called callous and indifferent in his approach to the soaring rate of news media murders and the hostility toward free speech in his state. In 2011 his government jailed two Twitter users on charges of "terrorism" for spreading unverified accounts of child kidnappings in Veracruz.

But his most recent statements were bold even by the governor's standards.

On July 1, the day before Juan Mendoza was found dead — during an event marking Free Speech Day, in fact — Duarte made a chilling warning before a group of journalists.

"Behave. We all know who is on the wrong path. We all know who in one way or another has connections with the underworld," Duarte said in a cooing voice, as heard in a recording of the speech. "Please behave, I beg you. … It's for your own good."

Audience members are heard murmuring in the recording.

"We're going to shake the tree, and many rotten apples are going to fall," the governor said.

Duarte touched on an unfortunate subtext present in the working lives of reporters in states suffering drug war violence. Drug cartels infiltrate police forces, political parties, and government agencies. In states firmly under their influence — such as Tamaulipas, Sinaloa, and Veracruz — cartels are also known to dictate what should be news.

Under threat, reporters and news agencies must ignore news that cartels dislike, and distribute only the kind of stories that they prefer, international press-rights groups such as the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists have frequently documented.

The CPJ Global Impunity Index says Mexico is ranked seventh in the world for lack of justice in cases of reporter killings.

"This is a year that has seen more violence against reporters and more silence," Dario Ramirez, director of the press-rights group Articulo 19 in Mexico, told VICE News in an interview Thursday.

Ramirez noted that Mexico has "the most robust system of protection for journalists in the world," with a federal-level special prosecutor's office, a national law, and a special unit for such cases in the national human rights commission.

But the federal prosecutor's office meant to protect reporters has been unable to successfully convict a single killer for taking a journalist's life.

One of the most emblematic of such killings occurred in 2012 in Veracruz, when Proceso magazine investigative reporter Regina Martinez was strangled to death in her home in the state capital of Xalapa. Three years later, government officials have renamed a plaza in Martinez's honor, but have been unable to conclusively solve her murder.

"I say it for your best interest, for your families, but also for me and my family, because if something happens to you, then I'm one who gets crucified!" Duarte said in Veracruz last week.

"Let's not confuse free speech with the representation of criminals in the news media," he went on. "Don't expose yourself. Those who one way or another have a link, stop having one. It's in your best interest. I tell you sincerely."

Related: Mexico Is Hacking Team's Biggest Paying Client — By Far

Follow Daniel Hernandez on Twitter: @longdrivesouth