a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. Most newspapers, television stations, and radio stations were privately owned. The government had minimal presence in the ownership of news media but remained a significant source of advertising revenue for many media organizations, which at times influenced coverage. Media monopolies, especially in small markets, at times constrained freedom of expression.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction but often self-censored due to fear of reprisal. Journalists could criticize the government and discuss matters of general interest with no restrictions. Politicians publicly discredited and criticized such journalists, however.
On August 7, several journalist organizations, including the Puebla Network of Journalists, National Network of Journalists, Communication, and Information on Women, and International Network of Journalists with a Gender Vision, issued a statement denouncing increased levels of violence against female journalists in Puebla from security forces and criminal organizations. The group reported 16 acts of aggression against female journalists between January and July and called on the Puebla governor to guarantee the adoption of public policies to respect, protect, and guarantee the exercise of journalism.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists were killed or subjected to physical and cyberattacks, harassment, and intimidation (especially by state agents and transnational criminal organizations) in response to their reporting. This limited media’s ability to investigate and report, since many of the reporters who were killed covered crime, corruption, and local politics. High levels of impunity, including for killings or attacks on journalists, resulted in self-censorship and reduced freedom of expression and the press.
According to NGO Article 19, lethal attacks occurred against journalists in Sonora, including the killings of Benjamin Morales on May 3 and Ricardo Lopez Dominguez on July 22 and the disappearance of Jorge Molontzin on March 16.
The Interior Secretariat registered 224 verbal and physical attacks against journalists in 2020 and a total of 1,052 between 2015 and 2020, 41 percent of which the secretariat attributed to public servants. The most common aggressions were intimidation and harassment, followed by threats and physical attacks, according to civil society groups. In the first six months of the year, Article 19 registered 362 attacks against journalists and accused public officials of committing 134 of them.
Between 2017 and August the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Journalists, a unit in the Prosecutor General’s Office, charged 136 public servants for crimes against journalists. For example, the office issued three arrest warrants in the case of the August 2020 killing of Juan Nelcio Espinosa, an independent journalist in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, who died while in police custody. The investigation continued as of August 30.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human rights groups reported that some state and local governments censored media. Journalists reported altering their coverage due to a lack of protection from the government, attacks against members of media and newsrooms, and threats or retributions against their families, among other reasons. There were reports of journalists practicing self-censorship due to threats from criminal groups and government officials.
Freedom of expression advocacy groups reported the government, despite reductions in its advertising budgets, continued to have a strong financial impact and influence on the largest media companies. According to advocacy groups, no information was available concerning the criteria through which the government chooses media outlets for public advertising.
Libel/Slander Laws: There are no federal criminal laws against defamation, libel, or slander; however, eight states have criminal laws on these acts. In Baja California Sur, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, and Yucatan, the crimes of defamation and libel are prosecuted, with penalties ranging from three days to five years in prison and fines for committing defamation or slander, both considered “crimes against honor.” Slander is punishable under the criminal laws of the states of Campeche, Nuevo Leon, Sonora, Yucatan, and Zacatecas, with sentences ranging from three months to six years in prison and fines. Five states have laws that restrict the publishing of political caricatures or “memes.” These laws were seldom applied.
In addition to criminal libel and defamation laws, civil law defines “moral damage” as similar to defamation concerning harm to a person’s “feelings, affections, beliefs, dignity, honor, reputation, and privacy,” according to the NGO Committee to Protect Journalists. A 2016 ruling by the Supreme Court removed the cap on fines for moral damages, leaving journalists vulnerable to exorbitant fines. In 2019 a Mexico City court ordered academic Sergio Aguayo, a columnist of the daily newspaper Reforma, to pay a fine of 10 million pesos ($530,000) in moral damages to former Coahuila governor Humberto Moreira. In July 2020 the Supreme Court agreed to analyze the case but as of August 23 had not issued a ruling.
According to civil society, libel and defamation proceedings tripled from 11 cases in 2019 to 33 cases in 2020. The Puebla state government sued the news outlet E-Consulta seven times due to its reporting.
Nongovernmental Impact: Organized criminal groups exercised a grave influence over media outlets and reporters, threatening individuals who published critical views of crime groups. Concerns persisted regarding organized criminal groups’ use of physical violence in retaliation for information posted online, which exposed journalists, bloggers, and social media users to the same level of violence faced by traditional journalists. For example, journalists in Nogales, Sonora, said they were aware of unspoken red lines in covering organized crime and that crossing lines, such as mentioning the name of an alleged assailant, could result in personal harm.
The government’s National Protection Mechanism to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Defenders provided panic buttons, bodyguards, and temporary relocation to journalists and human rights defenders. According to the Interior Secretariat, between 2018 and July assailants killed seven journalists and two defenders under protection of the mechanism.
On June 17, while journalist Gustavo Sanchez Cabrera was riding his motorcycle, two unidentified individuals in a car crashed into him, exited the car, and fatally shot him. Sanchez was a reporter for Facebook-based Panorama Pacifico and was in the protection mechanism after suffering an attempt on his life in July 2020. According to civil society, the protections the mechanism provided after the attempt to his life were lacking. As of August 27, there were no updates in this investigation.
On August 8, self-proclaimed members of Cartel Jalisco New Generation released a video showing a group of armed men threatening to kill journalist Azucena Uresti for reporting on self-defense groups fighting the cartel in Michoacan. As of August 18, authorities had not confirmed whether the threatening video was genuine. President Lopez Obrador condemned the threats, and the Interior Secretariat confirmed that authorities would grant Uresti protection measures.
The threat against journalists by organized crime was particularly high in the state of Guerrero. Journalists in Iguala, Guerrero, received anonymous messages through social networks, such as Facebook and WhatsApp, threatening them and their families, according to civil society. Following the August 2020 killing of Pablo Morrugares, El Diario de Iguala newspaper published a note blaming organized crime and Governor Hector Astudillo Flores’ administration for violence against journalists and impunity. In August 2020 attackers fired multiple shots at the building housing the printing facilities of El Diario de Iguala.
In June a federal judge sentenced Juan Francisco Picos Barrueto to 32 years in prison for the 2017 murder of journalist Javier Valdez Cardenas. Also in June a federal judge sentenced the former mayor of Chinipas, Chihuahua, Hugo Amed Schultz Alcaraz, to eight years in prison for his role in the 2017 murder of Miroslava Breach, a prominent La Jornada newspaper correspondent who reported on organized crime and corruption. In August 2020 a federal judge sentenced Juan Carlos “El Larry” Moreno Ochoa to 50 years in prison for killing Breach.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or block or filter online content. Freedom House’s 2021 Freedom on the Net report categorized the country’s internet as partly free, noting concerns regarding online manipulation tactics, potential for politicized content removals, high levels of violence against digital reporters, and investigations surrounding abusive surveillance practices.
In June the Federal Telecommunications Institute, an autonomous agency created to increase the transparency of media regulation, released internet neutrality guidelines for internet service providers. The guidelines allow internet service providers to deny access to certain applications, content, and services based on commercial criteria, in breach of their obligations to protect neutrality. Some public officials blocked critical journalists and media from following their social media accounts.
According to Google Report, Google received 24 requests from authorities in 2020 to remove content – 13 from police, eight from government officials, and three from unspecified sources. The most common reason to remove content was defamation, followed by privacy and security. Google received more removal requests from government agents in 2020 than in any other year except 2014. Digital media journalists covering stories such as crime, corruption, and human rights violations experienced physical violence and online abuse. Online discrimination, harassment, and threats were problems particularly for women journalists and politicians, as well as any individuals and organizations advocating for women’s rights.
NGOs alleged that provisions in laws threatened the privacy of internet users by forcing telecommunication companies to retain data for two years, providing real-time geolocation data to police, and allowing authorities to obtain metadata from private communications companies without a court order. While the Supreme Court upheld the provisions, it noted the need for authorities to obtain a judicial warrant to access user metadata.
Twitter users posted threats against journalists. Journalists who asked difficult questions of government officials during press engagements received attacks via Twitter. Tweets disseminated their identities and their media outlets and also made veiled threats.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
The NGO Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights identified 15 incidents between January and July of mass forced internal displacement (defined as the displacement of at least 10 families or 50 individuals) due to violence. Violence by organized criminal groups often prompted the incidents, which took place in 10 states and displaced 11,560 persons as of August. Land conflicts, social and ethnic violence, or local political disputes caused other incidents. Forced internal displacement disproportionally affected indigenous communities. There was a lack of comprehensive data on internally displaced persons (IDPs). The COVID-19 pandemic generated additional risks and exacerbated vulnerabilities for IDPs, including overcrowding in shelters and difficulty accessing food, basic health care, and education. The government, in conjunction with international organizations, made efforts to promote the safe, voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs.
According to civil society organizations, up to 3,250 persons, mostly women and children from indigenous communities, were forcibly displaced in July in Chenalho and Pantelho, Chiapas, due to territorial disputes between armed groups. This mass displacement elevated the group’s risk of malnutrition and health maladies. Three states have state-level IDP laws, but the country does not have a federal internal displacement law, which created challenges in resource allocation and interagency governmental coordination.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: Federal law provides for granting asylum, refugee status, or complementary protection to those fleeing persecution or facing possible threats to their life, security, or liberty in their country of origin; this right was generally respected. The government has an established procedure for determining refugee status and providing protections. The government worked with UNHCR to improve access to refugee status and the procedure to determine refugee status, reception conditions for vulnerable migrants and refugee applicants, and integration in local communities (including access to school, work, and other social services) for those approved for refugee and complementary protection status.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: The press, international organizations, and NGOs reported targeting and victimization of migrants by criminal groups and in some cases by police, immigration officers, and customs officials, including at land borders and airports. There were numerous instances of criminal armed groups extorting, threatening, or kidnapping asylum seekers and other migrants. In many parts of the country, human smuggling organizations wielded significant power, and media alleged frequent collusion among local authorities. There were credible reports of sexual assaults against migrants, particularly women, while migrating in and through the country.
On January 11, the government ended migratory detention for children. The government generally exempted accompanying adults from detention to preserve family unity. Children constituted 19 percent of irregular migrant flows identified by authorities; 30 percent of them were unaccompanied. Child protection authorities lacked sufficient capacity to shelter and process migrant children and families, and the government made modest headway to increase that capacity.
In a June International Organization for Migration survey, 20 percent of citizens and 35 percent of third-country migrants reported using a smuggler to arrive to the U.S.-Mexico border. The government increased efforts to target human smuggling organizations. In July the Prosecutor General’s Office arrested seven members, including the leader, of the Tamayo human smuggling organization. Authorities accused the suspects of smuggling 20 to 80 migrants per day through Baja California into the United States for more than a decade.
Obstacles to accessing international protection related most closely to capacity limitations and lack of coordination between the relevant agencies, as opposed to government policy. The Interior Secretariat reaffirmed its commitment to protect refugee applicants even as the country experienced an unprecedented number of applicants. From January to August the Mexican Commission to Assist Refugees (COMAR) received 77,559 applications for refugee status, a 41 percent increase from the same period in 2019, and anticipated that it would receive up to 120,000 applications in total by the end of the year. Between January and July COMAR processed approximately 25,000 cases. COMAR’s budget increased modestly in recent years but was not commensurate with the growth in refugee claims in the country.
Between August 23 and August 27, hundreds of migrants from Haiti, Cuba, and Central America protested in front of the National Migration Institute offices in Tapachula, Chiapas, to demand expedited refugee proceedings that would allow them to move freely throughout the country. Unprecedented numbers of migrants arriving at the country’s southern border and requesting refugee status stretched the refugee agency’s capacity to process requests.
On August 28, approximately 500 migrants, the majority from Haiti, started a caravan from Tapachula to Mexico City to obtain expedited asylum processing. The government deployed hundreds of security forces to contain the caravan. Various news outlets showed a video of two National Migration Institute agents with riot gear and shields grabbing one migrant, knocking him to the ground, and kicking him. On August 31, the government suspended the two agents for inappropriate conduct.