“I cannot recall a case in which the head of a major drug trafficking cartel directly threatened a news anchor,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, Mexico representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The Jalisco cartel is known for boasting about its large arsenal and threatening its rivals on social media. In 2020, the cartel uploaded a video showing men dressed in military attire and holding .50-caliber rifles with dozens of armoured vehicles and pledging loyalty to Oseguera Cervantes, known as El Mencho. A month ago, the cartel tweeted a video in which drug cartel members can be seen delivering mattresses and bed frames to people who live in flooded areas after intense summer rains.
“This is the same group that allegedly planned and carried out an attack on the head of Mexico City’s police not too long ago,” said Hootsen, “and that has organised and carried out deadly attacks on federal security forces, including the Mexican army.”
But the public threat to a journalist was new.
As Monday’s video went viral, tweets supporting Uresti flooded her account. They came from novelists, political analysts, fellow journalists, senators and former presidents. Michoacán’s governor, Silvano Aureoles, wrote: “the threat against @azucenau and @Milenio is very serious and should not be taken lightly.”
A group of 19 media companies including the country’s most prominent broadcasters called on officials to act.
“We expect a public statement from the federal government condemning these events and the reassurance that those who so blatantly express themselves on social media be apprehended and taken to trial,” they wrote in an open letter.
López Obrador mentioned Uresti in his Tuesday morning news conference.
“I want to tell her that she can count on us,” he said. “Since I heard, I gave instructions to assist her.”
The British freedom-of-expression group Article 19 documented 154 threats against reporters in Mexico in 2020. Most were delivered privately and anonymously via direct messages on social media.
Mexican journalists at greatest risk are those who work for small, underfunded local outlets, publish directly on social media, report for community radio stations or print modest weeklies. Those who have been killed reported on local politicians and criminal organisations, or the intersection between them – sometimes unintentionally, through coverage of sports or parties.
The video Monday recalled the threat received by journalist Héctor de Mauleón in 2017. That video, posted on Twitter, showed a black and white photograph of the journalist’s face while someone shot at it.
On Tuesday, de Mauleón called the threat against Uresti “the most full-frontal attack against the press that has been made by an armed group”.
The message to Uresti included a threat of gender-based violence.
“Women who live off their bodies do so proudly, they don’t hide behind broadcast companies or newsrooms to make money,” said the man who claimed to be Oseguera Cervantes.
Advocates and analysts saw that language as a clear sign of the way women – especially prominent women – are targeted on social media in Mexico.
“It’s common for female journalists to receive threats mentioning their bodies, private lives and their ‘moral’ conduct,” said Paula Saucedo, protection and security officer at Article 19.
Mexico is an increasingly dangerous country for women. An average of about 10 women are killed here per day, according to the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies. The rate has doubled in the past five years.
On Monday, Uresti was placed under Mexico’s program to protect journalists and human rights defenders. It offers protection including relocation, bulletproof vests and personal bodyguards. It was unclear what was provided to Uresti.
Presidential spokesman Jesús Ramírez Cuevas said the Mexican government would take “appropriate measures to protect threatened journalists and media”.
Nearly 1500 journalists and activists are in the program. Others have fled their homes or stopped doing journalism altogether.
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