Press Freedom On Trial

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Mexico is not the most dangerous country for journalists, other nations compete for that dubious distinction. But Mexican reporters do risk their lives when they cover the nation’s drug traffickers. And some of them face intimidation from government officials unhappy with their work. The World’s Lorne Matalon reports on one case in the latter category that could end up before the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

Matalon: Even in a country where constraints on press freedom are taken for granted, the case of journalist Lydia Cacho has jolted many Mexicans.

Matalon: Cacho lives in Cancún. Just before Christmas in 2005, she was forced into a car in broad daylight. Though she lives in Cancún, in the state of Quintana Roo, the men who took Cacho were police from the state of Puebla … with no jurisdiction in Quintana Roo.

Cacho: “They took me out of the car in the middle of the night in front of the ocean, in Campeche. And they kept asking me if I knew how to swim. They kept telling me that I should go jump in the ocean. They put the gun inside my mouth. They kept touching me. It was torture.”

Matalon: Cacho had written a best-selling book called “The Demons of Eden,” an investigation into child pornography and the smuggling of minors as sex slaves into Cancún. Cacho interviewed children and detailed their sexual abuse by two men, one of whom, Succar Kuri, sits in a maximum-security jail where he maintains his innocence. The other man, Kuri’s friend Kamil Nacif, has never been charged. But that’s not the part of the story that’s angered Mexicans.

Matalon: It’s a series of phone calls, recorded by Nacif’s wife. In one call, Nacif asks Kuri to deliver an underage girl for a fee of 2000 dollars. In another call, Nacif is speaking with the governor of Puebla, Mario Marín. It is evident that Marín ordered his police to go to Cancún and bring the journalist, Lydia Cacho to Puebla. First the Nacif tells the governor that for what he did, the governor is “the hero of this movie.”

Matalon: A Supreme Court investigation revealed Nacif has extensive textile interests in Puebla and was a political contributor to the governor. Governor Marín then replies, revealing he ordered Lydia Cacho taken to jail for defaming his friend, Nacif.

Matalon: The governor tells Nacif, “I put that woman in her place. I told her that here in Puebla, we respect the law. There’s no impunity. Whoever commits a crime is a felon so she should not play the victim to try and get publicity.” The governor says the tapes are a fabrication. Lydia Cacho says the experience was meant to silence her.

Cacho: “I was in jail. They treated me like I was the biggest criminal. They made me undress. I mean they humiliated me in jail. They made sure that they could break me down. They wanted to break me down and I noticed that.”

Matalon: The tapes and Cacho’s jailing triggered demonstrations demanding the removal of the Puebla governor. One Mexican Supreme Court justice said, “The authorities colluded to violate Lydia Cacho’s rights. There were also violations against minors.” The justice went on to say, “Cacho’s book doesn’t even begin to tell it all.”

Matalon: But in the end, the Supreme Court decided in a 6 to 4 vote there were no serious violations of her journalist’s rights by the Puebla Governor. The Court ruled that the key evidence – taped conversations – was inadmissible. Many legal experts say under current Mexican law, the court could not rule otherwise. But the Federal Prosecutor for crimes against women has resigned in protest, saying the evidence she gathered for the Court showed a clear conspiracy to violate Cacho’s human rights.

Matalon: Lucrecia Santibáñez is a prominent writer and university professor from Mexico City. She says the Supreme Court missed a chance to send a powerful message.

Santibáñez: “And for the everyday person, it really disillusions ordinary citizens to pursue the truth and really expose powerful people who are committing these horrendous crimes for what they are.”

Cacho: “Four judges of the Supreme Court know the truth. This won’t stop the case. I will take it to int’l courts. I want to explain what’s going on in Mexico because this has a lot to do with not only freedom of expression and what will happen to Mexican journalists if we keep investigating organized crime, and what happens when a governor is protecting organized crime how our lives are in danger.”

Matalon: A blue-ribbon team of Mexican human rights lawyers is now preparing a brief for the International Court at The Hague. The Mexican Congress is also investigating the case. If the Congress finds the governor guilty, it may force him out of office. The case has opened a window on what many suspect is common here…unholy alliances between some politicians and powerful business interests who support them. It has also become symbol for those who criticize the state of human rights in Mexico.

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