727 journalists and activists at risk: Government to stop funding federal protection programme

At least 727 journalists and human rights activists will have their lives put at risk this month after the Mexican Government has delayed funding to the federal protection programme, according to activists.

The Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, which is used by Mexicans who have had their lives threatened, will only be effective until December of this year however funds are expected to run out during October.

The delay of funds has raised questions over the Government’s effectiveness in protecting the press, some of which have chosen to self-censor their work in a bid to protect their lives.

Based on reports from Animal Politico, the Government was meant to pay up to 126 million pesos ($6.5 million)  for the maintenance of the programme, which can vary from providing citizens with armed guards, surveillance or even removing them to safe houses. Instead just 75 million pesos ($3.9 million) was meant to be deposited, however, it has been claimed even that amount hasn’t arrived.

Although the mechanism has been in place since 2012, the programme has been overwhelmed with enrollment recently as well as receiving heavy criticism for its structure.  

The scope of the problem has seen up to 80 reports of violence towards the press this year and over ten journalists murdered, with many more going unreported. The threats, which can vary from messages on social media to physical abuse, are often directed at people investigating or campaigning against corruption and crime – yet the rise in deaths this year means many opt to seek the protection programme.

With both federal and state protection mechanisms, there are also concerns that journalists with state-level support are often seeking protection from the very authorities trusted with guarding them. In the case of Mario Gómez Sanchez, a journalist who was gunned down a few weeks ago by armed motorbikers, human rights groups could not explain why his protection mechanism was removed before his killing. The State Attorney General’s office declined to comment.

Reductions to the programme’s funding come at a time when it is considered there are increased attacks against activists and the media. To accentuate the issue facing Mexico, 48% of registered attacks come from officials from the three levels of government, according to Julio César Colín Paredes, who oversees protection and defence at Articulo 19.

There remains, however, pessimism as to how incoming president Andrés Manuel López Obrador could change the situation. With planned cuts to media funding, a number of journalists are expected to lose their jobs and the president-elect has expressed negative sentiments about the media in the past. Instead of answering the question of a female journalist in Tijuana on September 20 for instance, he decided to kiss her.

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