In Mexico, more than 15,000 are murdered each year, many of whom are journalists. Shocking facts were revealed about the Mexican press as journalist Anabel Hernandez, Ivan Baez from human rights organization Article 19 and  Marta Duran, a Professor of Communication discussed their firsthand experiences about a brutal regime that goes to incredible lengths to silence its critiques. The talk at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia was chaired by Cecilia Rinaldini of Rai News.

On 26 September 2014, more than 40 students of the same school went missing in the rural region of Ayotzinapa. That night, students headed out to take a bus to an anti-government march in Mexico City. A clash with the police resulted in shooting in the centre of Iguala, and while the unarmed students tried to defend themselves with stones and sticks, eyewitnesses saw the federal police capture them. They were later handed over to a criminal organization who executed them. Only those who managed to hide survived the incident.

In spite of the mounting evidence gathered by investigative journalists, the government is still in denial. According to them, the mayor of Iguala ordered the murders as the students’ intention was to demonstrate against him – yet the conference at which he appeared was concluded before their planned arrival. The mayor and his wife were jailed without a trial or any witnesses against them. Existing evidence, however, suggests that the army was going around in Iguala to round up students, and the federal police took part in the assault. Confessions of direct witnesses, documents and videos all point to the involvement of the federal police. A document proved that they were spying on the students hours before the attack. „We discovered that all information released by the government is false. They still deny that the federals took part in this”, Hernandez says.

But why would the government attack unarmed students? Duran explains that rural schools exist for the education of indigenous people and peasants. „Mexico is a class dominated, racist society”, she says. „Indigenous people are the most exploited and discriminated, often treated with contempt. As a result, there is a very deep awareness of social injustice among them. Teachers in these schools don’t only teach kids to read and write, but to live with dignity. School taught political conscience and awareness which is very awkward for the government. Students were killed because they did not accept oppression.”

Recently, plans were made to convert rural schools into tourism schools. This would have deprived students of education, other than that necessary to work e. g. as hotel staff or waiters. In December 2011, 2 students were killed as they blocked a road to protest these measures. Duran also has proof that 3 months before Ayotzinapa, 21 other unarmed students were killed.
Baez calls Mexico a country of mass graves: in the past 9 years, 27 000 people disappeared. „There are ghost towns people moved out of due to fear. Millions of dollars are spent to paint a good image of Mexico abroad, but it does not depict the real situation.” The government has closed an eye on the massacre of migrants, the violence against women and the numerous unexplained executions.

No wonder, then, that most journalists in the country are silenced without being able to shed light on these incidents. Some get away with a lawsuit that puts them in a difficult financial position. Then come threats, torture, and eventually murder. Baez says retaliation is extremely brutal: „They kill you and all your family. They can even kill you in the broadcasting room . They sometimes cut people into pieces to send a message to others.”

Hardly anyone is ever brought to justice for the murder of journalists. Out of a hundred cases, only one leads to a trial. While the government puts the blame on organized crime, they are only responsible for 1% of the attacks. „They are trying to silence the press, but they have to be held accountable with more and more facts. It’s not enough to say ’we are doing something about it’. We need international support – it is very important to know we are not alone.”

Julia Ronyai