Mexican authorities must undertake a swift and credible investigation into the attack on reporter Edgar Leyva Mendoza, determine whether he was targeted for his work, and guarantee his safety, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.
On February 3, in Ocotlán, in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, two unidentified men in a car pulled up to a plot of land where Leyva, his sister, and his aunt were working, and asked for the journalist; when his aunt and sister approached the vehicle, the men opened fire, according to Leyva, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview, and news reports.
The journalist’s sister, Rosa Isela Leyva, and his aunt, Bernarda Ramírez, were killed in the attack, but he escaped unharmed, Leyva said. Leyva told CPJ he believed the men were trying to kill him; he said he did not know whether he was targeted for his journalism or due to a dispute over some land in the area.
Leyva gave witness testimony to the Oaxaca state prosecutor’s office on February 5 and is now in hiding, he told CPJ. On the day of the attack, that office wrote on Twitter that it was investigating the murders of two women in Ocotlán.
“The attempted assassination of Mexican journalist Edgar Leyva Mendoza, and the killing of two of his family members, occurred in a climate rife with fear, violence, and impunity,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico representative. “Mexican authorities must immediately do everything in their power to identify and arrest those responsible for the attack on Leyva and his family and determine whether he was targeted for his work as a journalist.”
CPJ repeatedly called the state prosecutor’s office for comment, but no one answered.
Leyva is the director of the news website Urbano 24 Horas, which he co-founded six years ago, and which publishes on its website and Facebook page, where it has about 40,000 followers. The outlet covers regional politics in Oaxaca, as well as alleged corruption and abuse of power by authorities.
In late January, Urbano 24 Horas published an article, written under the byline “Staff,” covering allegations of corruption within the Oaxaca state public safety secretariat. Leyva told CPJ that he had received threats from unidentified people because of that article; he did not specify the exact nature of the threats.
Leyva said he is in touch with the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which operates under the auspices of the federal Secretariat of the Interior and provides protective measures to journalists at risk. He told CPJ he is waiting to be incorporated in a protection scheme.
An official with the mechanism confirmed to CPJ that Leyva is in the process of being incorporated in a protection program but was unable to provide specifics. The official asked CPJ to remain anonymous, as they were not authorized to speak on the matter.
Mexico is the deadliest country in the Western Hemisphere for journalists. Last year, at least five reporters were killed in direct relation to their work, according to CPJ research.