ZITACUARO, Mexico (AP) — Six weeks ago, journalist Armando Linares choked up in a video announcing the killing of a colleague and promised to continue doing journalism that exposed the corrupt. Now Linares too has been gunned down — the eighth journalist killed in Mexico this year.
On Wednesday, his wife, children, siblings and friends prepared to see him off inside a small funeral parlor.
After initially halting his reporting for a few weeks and closing the Monitor Michoacan office following the killing of camera operator Roberto Toledo, Linares returned to reporting and resumed publishing the online news site.
He wrote stories about the monarch butterflies that winter in the mountains around Zitacuaro, butterfly-related festivities and other hyper-local and state news — but gone was the criticism of local officials he was known for before Toledo’s killing.
Still, the threat for journalists had persisted, something Linares seemed to expect.
On Jan. 31, the day Toledo was killed, Linares looked straight at the camera and said, “There are names. We know where all of this comes from.”
“The Monitor Michoacan team has been suffering a series of death threats,” he said. “Exposing the corruption of corrupt governments, corrupt officials and politicians today has led to the death of one of our friends.”
Linares told The Associated Press shortly afterward that he had continued receiving threats, enrolled in the federal government’s protection program for journalists and was receiving protection from the National Guard.
“He never gave in to anyone,” said Linares’ wife Rosa Elena Pedraza. “He died doing what he liked, he was a courageous man.”
She said Linares had government protection for a month after Toledo’s killing, but said later it was lifted. “If everything is calm they take away the protection,” she said.
On Tuesday evening, Linares was shot and killed at his Zitacuaro home. His body was found in the doorway with gunshots to the chest, according to the state prosecutor’s office. Authorities recovered 9mm shell casings at the scene. Authorities have not provided a suspected motive.
Magdalena Alonso, director of the news program Zitacuaro on the Air and a friend of Linares, said “for many motives it’s easy for them to attack you … because there isn’t much security nor do authorities feel responsible for providing it.”
Illustrating that point, an unidentified man approached a group of journalists Wednesday afternoon gathered in the entrance to the funeral home. He showed them a pistol hidden inside his clothing and told them they had two minutes to leave.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, speaking at his daily news conference on Wednesday, said Linares had not accepted protection.
“Michoacan’s journalists ask all public servants to save their condolences,” reporter Rodolfo Montes said during the president’s news conference. “There is indignation … there is fury, there is impotence at this wave of killings.”
López Obrador repeated his promise that there would not be impunity in Linares’ case and said there was no evidence public servants were responsible. But at another point, the president continued his frequent attacks on the press, alleging “lies” and calling some “mercenaries.”
In Michoacan’s state legislature, dozens of journalists stood at the front of the chamber holding signs that read: “Pacifist government doesn’t kill journalists” and “Press. Don’t shoot.”
A journalist group called “Not one more Michoacan” said in a statement that “the calls to be alert and help from Armando were not listened to.” It also criticized the state and federal governments for disparaging the professionalism of Monitor Michoacan and downplaying the threats its staff faced.
The killings of journalists have been coming at a rate of nearly one per week this year, an unprecedented spate of violence against the profession in Mexico. Advocates and the government have placed much of the blame on the high rate of impunity in killings of journalists and human rights defenders — as well as ordinary Mexicans.
Jan-Albert Hootsen, the representative in Mexico for the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists who had spoken with Linares after Toledo’s killings, lamented his death.
“In a world where disinformation and manipulating every narrative is an objective brutally pursued by those with power and willing to use deadly violence, journalists are legitimate targets and impunity is the most powerful tool to silence them,” he said via Twitter.
Interior Undersecretary Alejandro Encinas said Wednesday during a freedom of expression event at the Norwegian embassy that “if there is not prevention, if there is not investigation and there isn’t punishment, impunity will continue prevailing in these incidents.”
Linares did not want Toledo’s killing to go unpunished. In his video, he addressed his colleague’s family: “We aren’t going to leave things like this. We are going to take them to their ultimate consequences.”
AP writer María Verza in Mexico City contributed to this report.