t r u t h o u t | 12.30
Freedom of the Press as a Foreign Concept
Sunday 28 December 2008
by: James Rainey, The
A Mexican reporter who wrote about drug violence in his homeland is being held in custody by none other than the
Yes, we reporters might get stuck covering the late shift or - egad! - a parade. When disaster strikes or a source calls back on deadline, the nights can be long. Newspaper layoffs and hard economic times can cast a pall over just about everything we do.
But those concerns seem a piffle every time I read dispatches from around the world about journalists who, fighting for the story, also must fight for their lives.
The day before Christmas, an international group condemned the protracted torture of a journalist in
A couple of days later, news arrived that Zimbabwean journalist and human rights activist Jestina Mukoko had been accused of plotting to overthrow the government. Mukoko - already in custody for challenging Robert Mugabe, the thug who runs her country - could face death.
Sadly, real press freedom remains elusive even closer to home, as revealed by another story just over our southern border.
Two days before Christmas, a 15-year-old Mexican boy held a news conference in
The story grows out of the drug violence that has beset
The military crackdown on the drug lords has created its own problems. And that's what brought reporter Emilio Gutierrez Soto of El Diario del Noroeste into the story.
In 2005, he wrote that some soldiers were drunk when they raided a hotel in northern
Gutierrez, 46, promptly wrote another story, in which he recounted the alleged death threat. A few nights later, he said, a pounding on the door awoke him and his son.
Some 50 soldiers, wearing masks, ripped through the house, claiming they were looking for drugs and illegal weapons, he said.
The soldiers didn't find anything and left, Gutierrez said. After, a friend of one of the soldiers warned him that the next visit would be the last.
Gutierrez, the sole supporter of his son, decided he could not wait. On June 15, the reporter and his boy crossed the
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials took father and son into custody and sent them to a detention center in
The bitter irony - according to his lawyer, Carlos Spector - is that by presenting himself as an "arriving alien," the reporter was not entitled to the judicial hearing that an illegal crosser would have received.
ICE's request to postpone his hearing until March means that Gutierrez will have waited nine months to plead his case.
So he sits and waits, missing his freedom and his son (who was released to family friends in the
"I am not a criminal," the reporter said in a telephone interview last week. "I am a journalist."
U.S. officials, Spector said, have called Gutierrez a "threat to the community" but offered no evidence. "They can't even come up with a rationale," Spector said. "They don't even try."
An ICE spokeswoman declined to comment, citing Gutierrez's privacy and the pending hearing.
Spector theorizes that the
Even if he could be released back to
Another El Diario reporter was shot to death last month outside his home in
Reporters Without Borders, an international nonprofit that advocates for journalists, has spearheaded attempts to win Gutierrez's release. The Catholic bishop of
It would be nice to believe our government is trying only to protect us. But it's hard to imagine what's taking so long to decide Gutierrez's fate - or what would warrant holding a reporter for so long, without the chance to plead for his freedom.
In the meantime, the
A good way to start would be to protect the journalists who have risked their lives to help the public understand a sad, sad state of affairs.
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