Geopolitics

The Death Of Freedom In My Corrupt Mexico

A Mexican journalist's corruption investigations led to death threats and persecution against her. She has been forced to flee her country, but many of her colleagues were murdered before they could do the same.

At a Mexico City rally in honor of slain news photographer Ruben Espinosa on Aug. 8
At a Mexico City rally in honor of slain news photographer Ruben Espinosa on Aug. 8
Anabel Hernandez*

-Essay-

MEXICO CITY â€" Mexican news photographer Ruben Espinosa said in July that "death has chosen Veracruz as his home and decided to live there." Thirty days later, death found Espinosa in his Mexico City apartment, where he was discovered with a gunshot to his head.

It seems that death doesn't want to live just in Veracruz, but everywhere in this country, invited to do so by rampant impunity and corruption, taking more than 80 journalists in the past decade. Twelve of those deaths have occurred during President Enrique Peña Nieto"s administration, four since the beginning of 2015 â€" and the president still has another three years left in office.

In Peña Nieto's government there are both first- and second-class citizens. The latter (students, journalists and ordinary people) can and are massacred with impunity. The former, however, are drug lords such as Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, who recently escaped from a maximum-security prison. Espinosa now lies in a grave, while El Chapo is enjoying the good life.

José Moises Sanchez Cerezo was this year's first journalist victim. He was kidnapped by a commando in January and found decapitated 23 days later. The alleged murderer confessed that he had acted on the orders of Commander Martin Lopez Meneses, head of the municipal police in Medellin, in the state of Veracruz.

Armando Saldaña Morales was second. A journalist and radio announcer, he was killed on May 4 after he publicly denounced a criminal gang's theft of fuel. His body was found in a village on the border between the states of Veracruz and Oaxaca, with four gunshot wounds and visible signs of torture.

Filadelfo Sanchez was third. A director and journalist on a popular radio show in Oaxaca, he was taken by surprise on the morning of July 2 as he left his office, hit by nine bullets. Press freedom abuses occur every day in Mexico. Society as a whole is the victim.

Unpunished

Those who kill or order the killings of Mexican journalists aim to undermine society's fundamental right to be truthfully informed. Last April, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Mexico and Pakistan as the worst countries in the world for crimes against journalists.

Government forces and radical religious groups in Pakistan, as well as corrupt officials and drug cartels in Mexico, intimidate those who exercise freedom of expression. Since 2013, dozens of Mexican journalists have suffered police beatings â€" for example, when they have covered protests that are violently repressed. Others have received death threats or been censored, as in the case of Carmen Aristegui, who was fired from one of Mexico's leading publishing groups as a clear reprisal for investigative work about the First Lady's luxurious villa.

My own escape

I have personally been receiving death threats since 2010 for revealing documented links between the Mexican government and the Sinaloa Cartel. My sources were killed, and my family and friends have suffered horrible attacks and acts of intimidation. In December 2013, in revenge for the fact that I continued to investigate corruption among federal police leaders, they came to my house in Mexico City and held one of my bodyguards hostage, threatening my neighbors and pointing a gun to the head of a 6-year-old girl so that they could find out where I was.

They looked for us, but neither I nor my family were there. All they retrieved was a hard disk with CCTV camera recordings. I realized that this was the last warning, so I had to leave the country. Since then, I return to Mexico every month, continuing the investigative journalism that is necessary for justice, democracy and peace.

Journalist Anabel Hernandez in Mexico City in 2011 â€" Photo: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung

Ruben Espinosa had also realized that he needed to leave Veracruz after receiving threats and being persecuted by Gov. Javier Duarte's administration. He decided to leave the state June 9, taking refuge in the capital, believing it to be a safe place. Unfortunately, there is no refuge for journalists who question the status quo.

Laws that don't work

It's hard to tell who's more dangerous in Mexico, the drug traffickers or the officials. They often work side by side. Murders of Mexican journalists are becoming more commonplace because the laws that should protect us exist only to clean up the government's international image and, in fact, never actually protect us at all.

A few months ago, the foreign press tried to show that Peña Nieto's administration would bring prosperity to the country, but the facts demonstrate otherwise.

Around the world, governments have lost credibility for their lack of transparency and corruption. Organized crime â€" such as the drug cartels â€" has become stronger and infiltrated even the most developed of societies. Authoritarian or corrupt governments, as well as the mafias, detest freedom of speech and don't want a free society.

In Mexico, the loss of peace, justice and even human lives has been profound over the past few months. But we journalists are still standing. We keep going, not just for our lost colleagues but also because we know that in this terrible crisis our work is invaluable to society.

Of course, I'm afraid of dying. I'm scared of losing everything that is important to me, but my biggest fear is not being courageous enough to keep going. So I continue to work, inspired by my fellow journalists, the tireless defenders of human rights and all of the voiceless victims. We Mexican journalists are still standing.

*Anabel Hernandez is a journalist and author known for her investigations into corruption and human rights abuses.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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