Mexican journalist held at US border for past two months
PARIS, France — Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on the US authorities to admit Mexican journalist Martin Méndez Pineda into the United States. The target of death threats in the southwestern state of Guerrero, Méndez has been awaiting a response to his political asylum request since 5 February.
RSF is extremely concerned about the plight of Martin Méndez Pineda, a former reporter for the Guerrero-based Novedades Acapulco newspaper who has been held by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at a detention centre in El Paso, Texas, for the past 60 days.
Méndez requested political asylum at the US border on 5 February in order to escape repeated death threats in Guerrero. On 1 March, he passed the “credible fear interview” which the US authorities use to decide whether there are prima facie grounds for accepting that a real threat exists.
Normally, ICE would have then approved his conditional release and allowed him to enter the United States officially.
But Méndez has yet to receive an answer and is being held in the detention centre in “deplorable conditions,” according to his lawyer, Carlos Spector, who is his only contact with the outside world and has been helping him at every step. RSF’s assistance desk is in regular contact with Spector.
In a February 2017 report entitled “Discretion to Deny,” the Borderland Immigration Council accused US government agencies of using a “broad and unaccountable mechanism of ‘discretion’ to (…) remove asylum seekers and keep people in a situation of prolonged detention.”
“We call on ICE to release Martin Méndez Pineda without delay,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America burea. “This journalist, who has been persecuted and threatened with death in his country, must be allowed to present his case for political asylum freely and with dignity before an immigration judge.”
After providing Novedades Acapulco with coverage of the arrests that federal police officers carried out in a violent manner at the scene of a road accident on 22 February 2016, Méndez was insulted and attacked by the same police officers.
A few weeks later, armed individuals threatened to kill him outside his home. Fearing for his safety, he resigned from Novedades Acapulcoand filed a complaint with Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission. After the acts of intimidation continued, above all in the form of death threats in anonymous phone calls to his home, he finally decided in early 2017 to flee to the United States and not go back.
The environment for journalists in Guerrero is extremely dangerous. According to RSF’s tally, 11 journalists have been murdered in Guerrero since 2003 and one has disappeared. The most recent victim was Cecilio Pineda Birto, a crime reporter who was gunned down in Guerrero last month.
Ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, Mexico is the western hemisphere’s deadliest country for the media. A record number of 11 journalists were killed in connection with their work in Mexico in 2016.
In addition to Pineda Birto in Guerrero, two other journalists were murdered last month in Mexico: Miroslava Breach and Ricardo Monlui. There were also two attempted murders of journalists.
In a report published in February, entitled “Veracruz: journalists and the state of fear,” RSF examined the difficulties of working as a journalist in Mexico and proposed a series of recommendations to the federal and local authorities for ending the spiral of violence.