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Mexico's special prosecutor for crimes against journalists ineffective, reports nonprofit

February 16, 2009 |  8:50 am

Freedom of expression advocates in Mexico have issued yet another missive in support of the country’s long-suffering journalistic community.

The special prosecutor’s office for crimes against journalists, created in 2006 by the Mexican government of then-President Vicente Fox, is ineffective, lacks independence and is poorly funded, according to a report by the international freedom of expression nonprofit group Article 19.

Speaking at a news conference in the Casa Lamm cultural center in Mexico City on Friday, Dario Ramirez, head of Article 19 here, said the role of the FEADP, or Fiscalia Especial Para la Atencion de Delitos Cometidos contra Periodistas, had not been adequately defined.

"That means that the scope of prosecution and protection is limited and ambiguous," Ramirez said.

Article 19 says that 29 journalists have been killed and eight have disappeared in Mexico since 2000. Most cases remain unsolved, in part because of the inefficacy of the FEADP, according to the nonprofit. It and other organizations claim that a "culture of impunity" exists in Mexico, created by the failure to bring to justice those who kill or harass journalists.

"The inability to resolve these cases not only contributes to the climate of impunity, but it encourages future aggressions,” Ramirez said.

Sanjuana Martinez, a Mexican journalist who received death threats after reporting the alleged sexual abuse of young boys by Catholic priests in the United States and Mexico, also attended the launch of the report.

''We have a saying here in Mexico: If you want to hide something, create an attorney general’s office,” she said.

Only a few months ago, the head of the FEADP, Octavio Orellana Wiarco, said that reports of violence against journalists in Mexico were being exaggerated and that "there is a mistaken perception that Mexico is the country where the largest number of homicides of journalists takes place. This is not true."

His comments sparked incredulity among Mexican journalists and their defenders.

Ramirez was keen to stress that the purpose of the Article 19 report is not to demand the termination of the FEADP but rather to adjust it to make it a stronger, more effective institution.

The statement from the nonprofit recommended -- among other things -- changing the focus of the legal body from protecting journalists to protecting freedom of expression and to improving the FEADP's transparency and accountability.

-- Deborah Bonello in Mexico City