Local Government Should Offer an Apology
By Jesús Aguado
The local administration headed by Mauricio Trejo has October 9 as a deadline to issue a letter of apology for restricting freedom of expression of journalists in San Miguel de Allende.
The violation of the right to express themselves freely as well as the lack of access to information was proved before the Procuraduría de los Derechos Humanos de Guanajuato—State Human Rights Ombudsman—(PDHEG). That office issued the recommendations. They are not the first the administration of San Miguel de Allende has received due to abuse of power by some public servants.
In the state, this is not an isolated case. In the city of Silao, reporter Karla Silva was brutally attacked “under instructions of Silao’s mayor, Benjamín Solís Arzola,” and justice has not been done. On the other hand, a few weeks ago, another journalist, Gerardo Nieto Álvarez, was murdered in the city of Comonfort, although the motive for the crime is still under investigation.
Restriction to the right of information
In December 2013, journalists from the local TV and radio stations (Canal 4), TV Independencia, and Radio San Miguel denounced before the Procuraduría a violation of their right to express themselves freely, as well as denial of access of information.
Antonio Medrano, from TV Independencia, was one of the main persons affected. He explained to Atención that when the local government expelled the street vendors from the historic center (in January 2013), Mayor Mauricio Trejo publically accused him of requesting 500,000 pesos to not speak badly of his administration, and when Trejo got in his car, he told Medrano, “I am going to kill you.”
In September 2013, during Trejo’s government report held at the former city hall building, entrance was denied to a journalist from Canal 4 (represented by Luz María Núñez), Radio San Miguel (represented by Javier Zavala), and TV Independencia. The access was denied by the building’s manager and three police officers.
Javier Zavala commented to Atención that previously, in the 54 years of the radio station’s existence, there had never been a denial of access to public information. “They did not send us press releases or invitations to public events, and they did not grant us interviews with public servants. They did block us,” remarked Zavala. He said in addition that it was a violation to their right of access to public information, not just for the journalists but also for the citizens, who did not know what was going on in the city. Several times the filming of public sessions was prohibited to reporters from the media by personnel from the Public Relations Department, said Zavala. The people from that department used to ask his reporters to leave the building, and sometimes they blocked the cameras with a person. Zavala also commented that Trejo never visited the radio station studio to answer the questions of Sanmiguelenses.
Finally, in June this year, the PDHEG issued a resolution to the denunciation presented by the journalist, which was accepted in December 2013, with the number 115/13-D. The notification of the resolution was addressed to interim mayor José Luis Chagoyán Cabrera, V1 (Medrano) who was instructed to issue a letter “on behalf of the administration that he heads” with an apology to V1 (Medrano), for the acts committed against him. The document also states that the letter must contain an acknowledgment of institutional responsibility and effective guarantees that acts like those will not happen again.
In the resolution, the Procuraduría also states that the three police officers who participated in the blocking as well as those responsible at the former city hall building must have a penalty. In the third part of the resolution, the Procuraduría commands the mayor to guarantee freedom of expression and to work in public policies of social communication to guarantee the respect for human rights. Finally, the document recommends that the local administration improve the communication between the Public Security Department and the journalists, who will all be treated the same, without preferences.” Atención has a copy of the document provided by those affected that proves that the local administration accepted the recommendations.
Mauricio Trejo’s Answer
Trejo commented to Atención that he is happy that the resolution does not address recommendations “to me.” “The recommendations are addressed to some members of Public Security Department and administrative employees for that day when access to the building was not very easy for some journalists,” he said. We asked if there would be a penalty for those responsible, and he answered that “it is not about scolding them, but about putting more emphasis on training courses, hand in hand with the Procuraduría de Derechos Humanos. I will work on that, not on scolding.” Trejo made it clear that there have been training courses, but more are needed, so he will work with Rodríguez Junquera for getting it. “I honestly see with clear eyes that the rights of all journalists—although sometimes we cannot think the same—are safeguarded.” He added that the letter from the administration will be sent to V1 (Medrano.)
Karla Silva’s case, in context
Silva is a 24-year-old journalist, correspondent for El Heraldo de León in Silao. In an interview granted to this paper, she said that on September 4, 2014, she was brutally attacked by three people plus the former director of Public Security in that city, Nicasio Aguirre (fugitive from justice) and the former coordinator of the local police, Alejandro Fonseca (in custody), ordered by the Silao mayor, Benjamín Solís Arzola. “While they were beating me they said: Bájale de huevos a tus notas o te va a cargar la chingada (stop writing tough articles or you’re going to be dead,” she remembered.
Jesús Aguado: How was the conflict resolved?
Karla Silva: It has not been resolved. The penal process is still in progress.
JA: In your opinion, was the authority’s response correct?
KS: The state authority’s response was regular because they did have enough material for investigation and the mayor of Silao has not been punished. The Attorney General’s Office (PGR) has not paid attention to it, even if they have enough evidence for conducting an investigation and a trial.
JA: After the repression, were you afraid to work in the media again?
KS: Fear, no; uncertainty, of course, because if those responsible are not punished, my life is at risk as well as that of my loved ones.
JA: How have you overcome what happened to you?
KS: It is an experience difficult to overcome because the emotional damage is irreversible. I have not had enough time to assimilate what happened because the legal process is still in progress, and it will take time to be concluded.
JA: Currently, how is your relationship with the local authorities? Have they respected your right of access to public information and your right of expression?
KS: The relation is complicated. They deny me access to information, which represents information blocking. Access to information is not just mine, but that of the citizens.
JA: How does the situation you experienced impact the country with regard to respecting the journalist’s work?
KS: If those responsible do not receive a proper punishment, then that will represent an easy opportunity for white-collar criminals to attempt to move against the consciences of citizens, and the journalists will be afraid to inform.
JA: What is your opinion of the case in San Miguel de Allende?
KS: The repression of the right of expression is happening across the country, and most of the time those responsible are the mayors. It is lamentable that this case occurred in a city with such international fame because it is a city visited by thousands of foreigners and, just for that reason, the authorities must have an open mind to public scrutiny.
“A letter of apology” does not repair the damages nor guarantee a punishment to those responsible. A judicial punishment could guarantee that such incidents will not happen again.
Antonio Medrano commented that he is not totally happy with the response of the PDHE because it depends on Governor Marquez. “And we all know that he has a good relationship with Mauricio Trejo, and that is the reason why the recommendations were issued when Trejo had a leave of absence. The work of the Procuraduría was not effective because they did not investigate deeply,” he said. He also commented that the sentence should have been a public apology. He said that the public blocking of information continues.
On the other hand, Javier Zavala said that he is happy that the Procuraduría issued the resolution and made it clear. “To be honest, I thought that they would not do anything, but they did.”
Other reports filled before the ombudsman
Because of the complaints before the PDHEG, Mauricio Trejo’s investigation has been involved in controversy. The first incident, broadcast nationally, occurred in March 2013, when police officers called to a complete stop a driver and his companion “for consuming alcoholic beverages on the street.” Two young men, according to the local administration, did not obey the instruction, so they were followed by the patrol to the parking lot of a commercial center. Once there, the men did not get out of the car, and they were threatened by the police officers, who also sprayed tear gas inside the car. Later they took them out of the vehicle and conducted them to the municipal jail, among other abuses. On this case, the PDHEG recommended the local administration pay a penalty for the police officers involved because they did not respect the young men’s human rights and instead turned to excessive use of power, causing injuries, using threats, and spraying chemical substances into the vehicle.
The Procuraduría also recommended avoiding situations like this in the future. Another example of violation of human rights was added later, when two American women declared abuse of power by police officers while presenting an attachment order.
On May 31, the same year, Mayor Mauricio Trejo signed an agreement of institutional collaboration with Gustavo Rodríguez Junquera, the state ombudsman, to get training courses on human rights for San Miguel public servants, traffic agents, and police officers, specifically. However, their abuse was repeated in September of the same year.