3 May 2009

World Press Freedom Day 2009: International writers’ organisation focuses on Mexico.

To mark World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, PEN, the international writers’ organisation is focusing on Mexico. Around the globe, the day is used to remind governments of the importance of a free press and to highlight the risks of death or imprisonment faced by many journalists whilst attempting to practice their profession.

This year over fifty prominent writers, including Paul Auster, Lydia Cacho, Noam Chomsky, Ariel Dorfman, and Derek Walcott, have signed PEN’s ‘Declaration in Defense of the Freedom to Write in the Americas’. The international writers’ organization has united authors from across the Americas in its 2009 campaign to end violence against journalists in Latin America.

The Declaration condemns the persistent attacks against freedom of expression in Mexico where, in the last five years alone, PEN has recorded the deaths of twenty journalists and the disappearance of four more. PEN has called for appeals to be sent to President Calderón, using a postcard that is available to download on its website.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the Act was intended to protect the right of all to freedom of expression and opinion; to allow them to speak and to write freely; and to seek and receive information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.

PEN’S Declaration is damning evidence that in the Americas, particularly in Mexico, those who “criticise the authorities or expose the activities of criminal gangs, are frequently targeted, harassed, threatened, kidnapped and murdered for what they publish. Often those responsible for these crimes escape justice, official investigations stall or lapse into silence, and the crimes remain unpunished.”

What is so worrying it that despite it being “widely accepted that non-state actors are responsible for many of these violent attacks against journalists, particularly drug traffickers, paramilitaries and other criminal groups, and even state agents operating outside of the legitimate authority of their offices’, these atrocities continue with impunity. In Mexico, fear is stopping many journalists from covering major stories.

Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of any democracy. Writers, journalists and academics are often, quite literally, in the front line, whilst attempting to practice their profession or to safeguard this right.  When they are threatened or murdered and those responsible escape prosecution and justice, the climate of impunity that prevails undermines an entire society’s right to free speech and to access information.

In recent years, the Mexican government has taken various steps meant to combat these problems and encourage a free press. None of them have proved decisively successful. In early 2006, the Special Prosecutor's Office for Crimes against Journalists was created but to date there have been very few successful prosecutions. Campaign groups have attributed this failure to a lack of autonomy and resources as well as jurisdictional limitations.

In March 2007, the federal penal code was amended in order to decriminalize defamation. This was widely welcomed but has not yet had much impact as state laws are yet to be amended.

In October 2008, a proposal to reform Article 73 of the Constitution, to recognize crimes relating to freedom of expression and human rights as federal rather than state offences, was presented to Congress and recently the Mexican Chamber of Deputies approved an incomplete reform that attempts to confront the prevailing impunity for crimes against journalists in the country.

It is crucial that effective laws are imposed to prevent and prosecute violations of freedom of expression in Mexico. PEN’s Declaration serves to foreground the urgent need to combat impunity in Mexico.

For further information please visit:  http://www.internationalpen.org.uk