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Why 2015 Was the Most Violent Year for Journalists in Mexico

More journalists were threatened, abused, and murdered than any other year in Mexico's history.
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Journalists protest against rising violence during a march in Mexico. (Photo: Knight Foundation/Flickr)

Journalists protest against rising violence during a march in Mexico. (Photo: Knight Foundation/Flickr)

On February 8, 2015, Anabel Flores Salazar, a 32-year-old freelance journalist based in Veracruz, Mexico, was found dead on the side of the road in the neighboring state of Puebla.

That same week, award-winning journalist Aranzazú Ayala Martínez received numerous death threats on Twitter. A few days later, the hashtag #AniquilaUnPeriodistaPor (which translates to "annihilate a journalist because") became a trending topic on Twitter. Hundreds used the hashtag as a way to mock and insult the work of journalists in Mexico. Not a single government organization made an effort to speak out against the hashtag's cruelty.

These are just a few examples of the violence and threatening behavior journalists in Mexico experience on a regular basis. In fact, 2015 was the most violent year for journalists—including eight deaths—according to Article 19, an international human rights organization that presented some alarming statistics at a forum yesterday in Mexico City.

Aggressions against journalists jumped 58 percent in the last three years.

Article 19 uncovered 397 documented aggressions in 2015—71 more than in 2014. Since Peña Nieto was sworn in as president in 2012, the number of attacks has grown significantly. Aggressions against journalists jumped 58 percent in the last three years, according to Article 19.

Mexico City and Veracruz have been declared the most dangerous places for journalists, each reporting 67 aggressions within the past year. Guerrero was listed as second with 56 aggressions, and Puebla and Oaxaca counted 38 and 35, respectively.

International media typically blames the drug war for the violence against journalists, and that blame is usually not exaggerated. Take, for example, the staff at La Mañana, a major newspaper based in Tamaulipas, a state overruled by the Zeta cartel. The Zetas determine the stories that get published in La Mañana every day. In order to keep their jobs and their lives, La Mañana's editorial staff has no other option but to adhere to their orders.

Surprisingly, Article 19 found that, between 2009 and 2015, 46.9 percent of aggressions toward journalists were actually instigated by public servants, 17.9 percent were carried out by private individuals, and only 10.5 percent were perpetrated by organized crime gangs.

But that 10.5 percent represents the most serious attacks. Between 2003 and 2016, 23 journalists have disappeared. Five of them went missing only after publishing stories that drew connections between federal military authority and organized crime, and 15 of them disappeared after writing articles about drug trafficking operations.

"Our job is to inform, and what they want us to do is to not inform," said Hildebrando Deándar, the general director of La Mañana, addressing the control cartels have over the media. "What can we do with this fear? For example, we have to act in a way to censor ourselves, that's a form of security."

This fear has also manifested itself on social media. In 2015, 69 aggressions toward journalists were channeled through the Internet, which marks an 80 percent uptick since 2013. Despite these instances of threats and abuse, the Mexican government has so far done little to help. Mexico's National Commission for Human Rights has only reviewed 143 complaint records, of which 99 have been concluded and closed, and 44 are still in the review process, according to Article 19.

About 73 of the 110 journalists killed in 2015 were working in peaceful countries, according to French watchdog group Reporters Without Borders. Mexico was listed as the seventh deadliest country for journalists in the world, right after South Sudan and India. The report determines that, since the murder of Rubén Espinosa, a journalist who fled from Veracruz to Mexico City in a failed attempt to escape those threatening his life, it's impossible for any journalist in Mexico to stay safe.