Report: Drug gunmen kidnap journalists to demand airing of videos

By Olga R. Rodriguez, AP
Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mexican drug gunmen demand media run clips

MEXICO CITY — Gunmen who abducted four journalists in northern Mexico are demanding their media outlets broadcast videos apparently taped by a drug cartel that accuse officials of favoring a rival gang.

Drug gangs often kill, threaten or beat journalists to intimidate them and stop them from covering drug related stories but kidnapping them to force newspapers and television stations to publish their messages is a never before seen tactic.

The Inter-American Press Association expressed outrage Thursday at the kidnapping and urged the Mexican government to help free them.

“We are seeing, with grave concern, that the violence keeps expanding in the country while reporters remain without the proper tools to do their job without fear of reprisal,” the press association’s president, Alejandro Aguirre, said.

The journalists — two of them from Televisa, Mexico’s biggest television network — were snatched after they left a prison in the city of Gomez Palacio where they had covered a protest against the arrest of the penitentiary’s director, one of their employers said.

The abducted journalists include a reporter and a cameraman from Televisa, a cameraman for Milenio Multimedia television and a reporter for Durango state newspaper El Vespertino.

Neither Milenio nor Televisa returned calls seeking comment Thursday. But a story published Wednesday in Milenio newspaper, part of the Milenio Multimedia group, said that shortly after the reporters went missing on Monday their cameraman, Jaime Canales, called to say his captors wanted the channel to air three videos that had earlier appeared on a blog devoted to drug trafficking.

Canales told his editors that his captors said “they were unhappy with the coverage” of the prison scandal.

On Tuesday, Milenio Multimedia aired the three videos, which last about 15 minutes and show two local police officers and two civilians being interrogated and confessing to working for the Zetas drug gang in the Laguna region, which includes the cities of Gomez Palacio and Lerdo in Durango state and Torreon in neighboring Coahuila.

The area has seen an increase in drug violence that authorities attribute to a turf battle between the Sinaloa drug cartel and the Zetas.

The newspaper said the journalists’ captors are members of a drug cartel that “is unhappy with the coverage given to the prison” scandal but the report doesn’t identify it.

On Sunday, federal authorities arrested the Gomez Palacio state prison director, Margarita Rojas, and three other prison officials because they allegedly let inmates out, lent them guns and sent them off in official vehicles to carry out mass killings, including the massacre of 17 people last week.

Prosecutors said the prison-based hit squad is suspected in three mass shootings, including the July 18 attack on a party in the city of Torreon. In that incident, gunmen fired indiscriminately into a crowd of mainly young people in a rented hall, killing 17 people.

Federal prosecutors said tests on bullet casings found at the scenes matched those of four assault rifles assigned to prison guards.

News of the kidnapping had been kept quiet until Tuesday when Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission called on the government to find the journalists following a radio interview with Durango state interior secretary Oliverio Reza. Reza told Formato 21 Radio on Tuesday that the two cars the reporters had been riding in had been found set ablaze near the prison.

In an opinion article published Wednesday, Milenio’s Deputy Managing Editor Ciro Gomez Leyva called Reza and the human rights commission “irresponsible.”

The reporters remained missing Thursday.

Press freedom groups say Mexico is one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists. More than 60 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2000, according to the National Human Rights Commission. Many more Mexican reporters have received threats from drug gangs.

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