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Five Journalists Killed, Newspaper Closed, amid Mexico Cartel Violence

A Mexican newspaper has closed down following the killing of several journalists, seemingly by drug cartels – highlighting the dangerous and volatile situation for the press in that country.

El Norte de Ciudad Juarez (“El Norte”) – a newspaper based in the state of Chihuahua, which borders the US – published their final printed edition on April 2. The last issue featured a letter titled “¡Adiós!” (Goodbye!), where the publication’s owner, Oscar Cantú, expressed his frustration towards the “punishments from individuals and governments” that journalists have received for highlighting “their wrongful practices and acts of corruption”.

Cantú described the closure as “a way of protesting, of saying no more”, after the murder of three Mexican journalists, and the attempted murder of two, in March alone – for which there are no suspects in custody. Cantú claims that journalists are being killed with impunity due to a corrupt relationship between Mexican authorities and drug cartels, which allows cartel members to “commit acts without any consequences”.

One of those murdered in March was Miroslava Breach, a journalist for El Norte. On March 23, while Breach was parked in her car outside of her home, she was shot eight times by an unknown assailant, dying instantly. The 54 year-old mother was preparing to take her children to school; one of her sons was sat in the back seat at the time, but was uninjured by the attack.

Breach regularly covered topics relating to organised crime and corruption for El Norte, as well as for another publication, La Jornada. Her latest reports had focused upon alleged corruption ties between drug traffickers, state police forces, and local election candidates.

Breach had previously received death threats for her work, and had reported them to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Ministry did not ascertain who sent the threats, according to BBC Mundo.

Breach was the third journalist to be murdered in March, following Cecilio Pineda Birto and Ricardo Monlui who were killed in the south of the country. The murders are seemingly continuing unabated; journalist Maximino Rodríguez Palacios was shot to death on April 14 in the city of La Paz, while radio journalist Filiberto Alvarez Landeros was killed in late April in the city of Tlaquiltenango.

Mexico has regularly had one of the highest number of journalists killed in the world, according to year-by-year data from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Emmanuel Colombie, head of the Reporters Without Borders’ Latin America desk, claimed that “organised crime and corruption make informative jobs impossible, and sentence journalists to censorship and silence”.

A May 2017 publication by the CPJ estimated that "Mexico's impunity rating has more than doubled since 2008".

According to new data published by the CPJ, at least 37 journalists have been "murdered for their work" in Mexico between 1992 and mid-April 2017. 86 per cent of journalists were murdered with "complete immunity", the CPJ says, and 63 per cent of the deaths are attributable to criminal gangs.

Oscar Cantú claims that the termination of El Norte was “talking for the journalists that have been murdered and … [is a] message that it should not be that easy to commit a crime against [journalists who] contribute to the strengthening of democracy”. While his remarks seem brave, it remains unclear what can be done to protect journalists from cartel-related violence in Mexico; press freedom appears to be increasingly under threat.

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