For me, a journalist living in exile as a consequence of my job exposing official corruption and the impunity enjoyed by Mexico’s drug cartels, World Press Freedom Day represents nothing but sadness and adds another mark to a calendar filled with unanswered calls for justice.
Journalism is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 911 media workers have been assassinated worldwide since 1992. This figure does not include four recent assassinations in Latin America, where just this past weekend Mexican reporter Regina Martinez was beaten and strangled to death inside her home, while in Colombia French correspondent Roméo Langlois was wounded and kidnapped by FARC guerrillas.
The committee’s statistics show that only 34 per cent of journalists’ deaths occurred while the victim was covering a war. The rest happened outside of a conflict zone and were a result of the type of work the reporter was doing. Political groups were responsible for 30 per cent of the killings; 24 per cent of the victims were murdered by government officials and 19 per cent by a criminal organization. Thus, the main sources of risk for journalists and the society they serve are impunity and corruption.
Sadly, I have first-hand experience of the way a corrupt system operates, how it enhances impunity and how both affect press freedom.
Jose Ramirez Puente was a young radio reporter in Ciudad Juarez. I met him at the beginning of his career in the mid-1990s. We shared a love of basketball and played on a journalists’ team at charity tournaments. On April 28, 2000, Jose was stabbed to death in his car.
In 1990 I was in my second year as a journalism student when I was hired to work for El Diario de Monterrey. Roberto Mora Garcia was my editor and soon became a kind of mentor. Years later Roberto moved to Nuevo Laredo to become editorial director of El Manana. On March 19, 2004, police found his stabbed body next to his car. Two neighbours were arrested but one of them was himself murdered in jail after declaring that he had been tortured by police to get him to admit to the killing.
Enrique Perea Quintanilla was a close friend of mine. We were cubicle neighbours at a Chihuahua newspaper where we worked for a year. On Aug. 9, 2006, I texted him to ask him for information about a high-profile crime that had occurred a few days before. Later that afternoon I received a reply from the person who had killed Enrique 10 minutes before. His oldest son was murdered three years later.
Another close colleague was Armando Rodriguez. I had known him and his wife, Blanca, since they began dating. We worked together on a team of journalists investigating the serial murder of young women in Ciudad Juarez. On Nov. 13, 2008, he was in his car preparing to take one of his daughters to school when a man walked up and shot him to death. Armando and I were on a list of targeted journalists. I had decided to flee two months before his assassination.
Just days ago, on April 20, radio journalists Javier Moya and Javier Salinas went to a bar in Chihuahua for a drink when a group of hit men came in and shot them. Both reporters died, along with another 13 people, in an incident apparently not related to the journalists’ job. Yet they were my colleagues as well.
In 88 per cent of the killings cited in the report of the Committee to Protect Journalists, no one has been charged. That is also the case with all six of my murdered colleagues.
I became a journalist because I was inspired by the idealistic concepts of freedom of the press, freedom of expression, democracy and justice. Twenty-three years later I live in exile in Canada, struggling with such basic things as housing, food and a job. This is the price I must pay for my career, which despite everything I still love.
But on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, I find little to celebrate.
Luis Horacio Najera is a recipient of the 2010 Canadian Journalists for Free Expression International Press Freedom Award.