Jose Antonio Rivera and Peter OrsiAssociated Press
A journalist was murdered in the troubled southern state of Guerrero, Mexican authorities said Friday, adding to a long list of reporter killings in what is considered one of the world’s most dangerous countries for media professionals.
The Guerrero state prosecutor’s office said in a statement that Cecilio Pineda Birto was shot dead Thursday evening in Ciudad Altamirano while in a hammock at a car wash waiting for his car to be serviced. Prosecutors said two attackers arrived on a motorcycle and one of them fired a handgun, according to eyewitness accounts.
Authorities were investigating, and there was no immediate word on whether his killing may have been related to his work.
Pineda was the founder of La Voz de Tierra Caliente, collaborated with various other media outlets and also published reports via Facebook, said Carlos Lauria, senior program coordinator for the Americas at the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists, who has been working to document the case.
Lauria told The Associated Press that according to a witness, Pineda was shot at least 10 times, including once in the neck and four times in the chest.
Pineda was apparently receiving threats on a weekly basis, mostly through social media, according to Lauria. He added that Pineda escaped a previous attempt to kill him in September 2015 when a gunman shot at him at his home.
The man who shot at him then had apparently told Pineda’s wife he was there to warn him that his boss didn’t like what he was writing. Shortly after, Pineda said he received a phone call from the local organized crime boss nicknamed “El Tequilero” again warning him to lay off, according to government records.
One week after that attempt, a federal government unit that protects journalists had arranged for federal police to relocate Pineda and his family after judging his risk level to be “extraordinary,” according to documents provided by the government. On the day of his scheduled departure, Pineda sent an email saying he was ill and unable to travel. Several more attempts were made to relocate him over the next year, but he never left.
Pineda told authorities that he had mainly covered crime and local politics since 2008. He complained of receiving threats from organized crime and politicians and began leaving names out of his stories.
In October 2016, officials from the unit met with Pineda again. He said he had changed homes and cars and had not received new threats. He declined to move to the government safe house because he said he would not be able to support his family. The unit decided to close his case.
Two weeks later, Pineda told them one of the Tequilero’s hit men had called to tell him to be careful. Pineda said he was holed up in his house afraid to leave.
The unit again offered him and his family shelter outside the area, but he declined again and the case was closed.
Patricia Colchero, head of the interior ministry’s human rights protection unit, said her entity had not found a way to protect Pineda if he would not leave the area.
“The area is very difficult and he was doing journalism calling out organized crime, calling out politicians who were tied to organized crime,” Colchero said. “He received major threats.”
Guerrero state security spokesman Roberto Alvarez Heredia called the Pineda “a model journalist” who “was very exposed” for his work reporting in a dangerous area.
According to the CPJ, at least 37 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 1992 for motives confirmed as directly related to their work. Forty-nine more were slain during the same period in circumstances that have not yet been fully explained.
“Mexico is clearly the worst, most dangerous place for journalists in the Western Hemisphere,” Lauria said. “And what makes it worse is the impunity surrounding most of these cases that perpetuates a climate of violence where journalists are left wide open to attacks.”
Ciudad Altamirano is in one of the most conflicted parts of Guerrero, an area where heroin-producing poppy crops are grown in a region disputed by several drug gangs.
Associated Press writer Jose Antonio Rivera reported from Acapulco and Peter Orsi reported from Mexico City. AP writers Maria Verza and Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed.