Tijuana Police Photographer Margarito Martinez, and Lourdes Maldonado, an outspoken veteran of radio and television, believed they were in mortal danger. Both sought security in a state government protection mechanism.
Yet, in less than a week, the two journalists were shot dead in attacks outside their home in Tijuana earlier this month.
The crimes, which remain unsolved, have led journalists and their supporters to demand justice across Mexico, one of the most dangerous countries in the world to report the news.
They also placed scrutiny on the states and the federal government. government mechanisms designed to protect Mexican journalists while they go about their business.
“The protection they give you is bureaucratic, you’re on a list of threatened journalists, they don’t immediately send someone to protect you,” he said. Odilon Garcia, a Journalist from Tijuana was previously enrolled in the Baja California Special Protection Program for journalists and human rights defenders.
He called the measures “absolutely unnecessary”.
The programs are designed to offer additional protection to journalists and human rights defenders who are under threat. They may involve special phone numbers – often called “panic buttons” – to provide round-the-clock protection for intermittent patrols. The measures are intended to be adapted to the specific needs of the person under protection.
Garcia turned to the state apparatus in April 2018 following death threats posted on Facebook by Ivan Riebeling, a man who impersonates a human rights defender and called himself “Commander Cobra”, and later died of COVID-19.
“It is more than clear that the systems for protecting journalists have not worked,” said Sonia de Anda, a journalist from Tijuana who leads a collective of journalists called #YoSíSoyPeriodista, which means #IAMaJournalist. She is also an advisor to the State Protection Mechanism.
from Mexico federal program to protect journalists was launched in 2012, at the end Felipe Calderónit is presidency, which has seen an increase in violence against journalists and human rights defenders.
“It is an institution that had, to put it mildly, a very difficult start, and which is still far from what it should be,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, Mexico’s representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists. “The mechanism is perpetually understaffed, perpetually underfunded, it faces myriad problems in how it deals with these threats.”
In the wake of the murder of journalist Javier Valdez in Culiacan in May 2017, then President Enrique PenaNieto ordered the creation of state protection mechanisms. The Baja California Mechanism was launched later that year, but more than four years later has had little success.
“He doesn’t have his own budget. Almost no one works for them. He’s not self-contained at all, so he’s basically a paper tiger,” Hootsen said.
The Baja California Attorney General announced this week the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate both crimes.
Authorities say they are in theIearly stages of the investigation and did not link the shootings to the victims’ work as journalists. They say the weapon used in the January 17 murder of Martinez is linked to at least five other homicides.
Maldonado, 67, was shot in the head as she returned home Sunday evening to the small house where she lived with her dog and four cats in a tight, modest housing estate south of the city center.
Almost two years earlier, in March 2019, she told the president Andrés Manuel López Obrador during a televised press conference that she fears for his life. She wanted support for her long labor battle against Jaime Bonilla, then a candidate for governor of Baja California and owner of a media company where Maldonado had worked and was fighting in court over back pay.
Last April, after Maldonado reported that the rear window of her car had been shattered by a gunshot, she was enrolled in the Baja California Protection Program, de Anda said. The measures included a permanent municipal police guard outside his residence from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. De Anda said Maldonado also requested the presence of the municipal police when she returned home and was given a number to call when she needed help.
“It was when she felt most vulnerable, when she came home at night, got out of the car and walked four steps to her door,” de Anda said. “She practically described how she was killed.”
De Anda said she tried to check if established protocols were in place that night, but had yet to receive a response from city police.
In the days before his death, Maldonado had been optimistic after a legal victory in his long battle for back pay from Bonilla’s news company, PSN. On Thursday, just two days before she was shot, she was among a crowd of journalists gathered to demand justice for Martinez.
Martinez, 49, was shot dead in broad daylight on January 17, outside the house where he lived with his wife and daughter in one of Tijuana’s most violent neighborhoods. He had worked for years as a freelance police photographer and fixer for foreign journalists, and was often the first member of the media to arrive at homicide scenes.
Martinez sought state protection last month following a confrontation with a man who was covering the crime on his Facebook page and falsely accused Martinez to run a popular Facebook page that denounces drug traffickers.
The photographer made his petition just days after the start of a new governorship. A state official claimed that Martinez could not be incorporated because the system had not yet been legally installed under the new government, de Anda said. Martinez was referred to the federal protection system and sent paperwork to complete, but he apparently never completed it and was never registered.
“It was never incorporated into either the state system or the federal system,” she said. Government officials “failed to understand that the system cannot stop working, even for a day.”
A state official said this week that the system is undergoing an “extensive review” and that no details will be released until the review is complete.
Hootsen said even well-funded and well-managed protection mechanisms will remain insufficient until the overwhelming majority of attacks on journalists are resolved and go unpunished. Special protection measures cannot work, he said, “if you, as a government, also decide to work on impunity.”