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Mexican authorities bungled case of slain journalist, group says

MEXICO CITY -- Journalists investigating the recent slaying of one of their colleagues said Wednesday that they have found a slew of mistakes, omissions and bad policing that undermine government claims that the man was killed as part of a personal dispute.

Gregorio Jimenez, a prolific freelance journalist kidnapped and found dead last month, “was without a doubt killed because of his work: to inform,” Maria Idalia Gomez, a representative of the Inter-American Press Assn. and participant in the inquiry, said at a news conference.

Jimenez was one of at least 10 journalists who have been killed in the last three years in the coastal state of Veracruz, by far the most deadly place in Mexico for reporters. Yet the government of Veracruz has routinely dismissed or sought to minimize the murders, most of which have not been thoroughly investigated, if at all.

In the Jimenez case, after public outcry, Veracruz authorities rushed to imprison six people and blame the crime on a personal dispute between Jimenez and a woman who owned a bar.

But four journalists’ organizations, members of which traveled to Veracruz, interviewed more than 60 people and pored over a case file of 340 pages, and found sloppy investigating by authorities. Key evidence was ignored, testimony of important witnesses was excluded and supposed confessions by the jailed suspects were not verified.

“This case is emblematic,” said Elia Baltazar, founding member of a grass-roots reporters organization called Periodistas de a Pie.

The threats that silence journalists in Veracruz, as well as other parts of Mexico, come from drug traffickers, local governments that want to suppress bad news, and big newspaper owners who curry favor with those governments, Baltazar said.

The journalist groups say they have had to take the investigation into their own hands because authorities fail to act. They also faulted a division within the federal attorney general’s office, created to protect reporters and investigate claims of abuse against them, for not doing enough.

Gomez said that before masked men snatched Jimenez from his home in February, the reporter had written a story that linked a powerful Veracruz businesswoman to an alleged kidnapping ring.

In addition to the 10 journalists killed in Veracruz since the government of Javier Duarte, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, took office in late 2010, at least three remain missing, and many more have fled the state out of fear for their lives.

Separately, another news advocacy group, Article 19, said that the first year of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government has been the most violent for journalists since 2007. In its annual report, the group documented 330 attacks, broadly defined as anything from fisticuffs to slayings. Some have occurred during scuffles with police breaking up public demonstrations.

The director of the organization, Dario Ramirez, said that on Sunday, on the eve of the release of the report, unknown assailants broke into his home, ransacked it and stole computers and documents.

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