Journalist María de Lourdes Maldonado López was murdered outside her home in Tijuana on 23 January. ARTICLE 19 calls for an immediate, thorough and independent investigation into her death and for authorities to protect Maldonado’s family, colleagues and lawyer.
The year 2022 has already been a deadly one for journalists in Mexico. Four journalists were murdered in January: María de Lourdes Maldonado López, José Luis Gamboa Arenas, Alfonso Margarito Martínez Esquivel and In the last hours of January, Roberto Toledo.
ARTICLE 19’s Mexico and Central America regional office monitors attacks on freedom of expression, including violence against journalists, protests and surveillance. The office worked closely with Lourdes Maldonado, who had been involved in a nine-year dispute with the television company Media Sport de México (PSN), with which she had worked. ARTICLE 19 documented two attacks against Maldonado’s vehicle in 2019 and the fact that in she had expressed to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador that she feared for her life that same year.
ARTICLE 19 calls for an immediate, thorough and independent investigation into the journalist’s death. In addition to ARTICLE 19’s appeal to the local authorities to work with federal officials to protect Maldonado’s family, colleagues and lawyer, authorities in Tijuana and throughout Mexico must refrain from issuing any communication that could stigmatise Lourdes Maldonado or damage the investigation.
This is one of two alerts released by the regional office in late January regarding the murder of journalists. Read the alert regarding José Luis Gamboa Arenas and Alfonso Margarito Martínez Esquivel.
Lourdes Maldonado was the third journalist to be murdered in Mexico in 2022. She is the second journalist to have been murdered in Tijuana, Baja California. The three killings will now join the list of 145 other murdered journalists since the year 2000, 28 of which have taken place whilst President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been in office.
On Sunday, 23 January between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., Lourdes Maldonado López, a freelance reporter and correspondent for several media outlets, including Canal 73 IZZI and Televisa, and host of the Internet/Radio Sintoniza Sin Fronteras programme ‘Brebaje,’ was murdered outside her home. Sources indicate that Maldonado was in a car when an unknown individual got out of a taxi as Maldonado arrived and approached her.
María de Lourdes Maldonado López, 67, was originally from Gómez Palacio, Durango, from where she travelled to Mexico City to study for a degree in journalism at the Carlos Septién school. Her professional career began in Acapulco, Guerrero, and continued in Mexico City, where she worked for Televisa newscasts. She was later sent to Tijuana to work as a correspondent. She stopped working at Televisa in 2000 but continued to write her ‘Brebaje Político’ [‘Political Concoction’] column, which she presented on a local cable television station and later, as the COVID-19 pandemic began, broadcast on social media.
A long-running dispute
Maldonado primarily covered politics and corruption in the state of Baja California. She had previously worked for the television company Media Sport de México (PSN) owned by the former governor of Baja California, Jaime Bonilla Valdez. In 2013, the journalist and her former employer entered into a dispute, resulting in the termination of Maldonado’s employment. She then initiated legal proceedings against PSN for wrongful dismissal.
Almost nine years after legal proceedings got underway, on 19 January, four days before her murder, Maldonado was notified of a ruling in her favour by the Federal Arbitration Conciliation Board No. 59 in Tijuana. It ruled that she had been wrongfully dismissed and that she was entitled to back pay from the company. PSN was told it was legally required to pay her.
The same day, in line with public information provided by the journalist’s lawyer, it emerged that the former governor Jaime Bonilla Valdez had been ordered to pay a fine, and that as he had refused, the company’s assets and/or those of Bonilla Valdez, were legally sequestrated. This led to the commercial company PSN also being sequestrated, and Lourdes Maldonado was appointed as intervening trustee. In a video circulated on the Internet, the lawyer said that this would give the journalist access to ‘all the accounting books, all the payroll of his employees’. The lawyer added: “Similarly, Bonilla is obliged to pay social security contributions and Infonavit [a mandatory contribution to the Institute of the National Housing Fund for Workers, which provides mortgages to workers] and hand over everything related to the payment of taxes’.
Maldonado to President López Obrador: “I fear for my life”
Maldonado was concerned about the legal process for employment affairs, publicly stating at a press conference held by President López Obrador on 26 March 2019, that:
‘I also come here to ask you for support, help and employment justice, because I fear for my life, because I have been involved in a lawsuit for six years that was awarded in my favour in the Federal Board of Conciliation. However, they recently reverted the case and in three weeks it came out against me.
“So I come here to ask for that support, that justice, and I do it because it is about a powerful political figure who has no intention of paying me at all. I even filed an injunction, but I’m doing it because it is about your senator, who has power, your super coordinator of delegations and your candidate, the candidate running for governor of Baja California, Mr Jaime Bonilla. That is why I am here asking for your support, because you have said that taking away or not paying employees their salaries is unfair and is even a sin, sir. And I know that, against the corruption that exists in the Federal Conciliation Board and that which that I am experiencing now in Tijuana with this powerful character, I can do nothing or little, nothing without your support, Mr President. Thank you very much.”
President López Obrador replied: “Regarding the latter, I shall ask Jesús Ramírez, who is the coordinator of Social Communication, to assist you, to support you, so that justice is demanded, that there is no influence, that action be taken within the framework of the law.”
In accordance with the documentation that ARTICLE 19 drafted directly with Lourdes Maldonado, it was recorded that the journalist suffered two attacks on her vehicle in the week of 29 March to 4 April 2021. On that occasion Maldonado told ARTICLE 19:
“The first blow was against the right-hand edge of the car and they managed to hit the glass and cracked it. The block used to hit the car was found and the Ministerial Police took it as evidence along with the photos of the damaged car. 2) In a second blow, a bullet destroyed the rear window.”
Maldonado also told ARTICLE 19 that she attributed the attacks to her criticism of the Bonilla government (at that time still governor of Baja California) and governments under the conservative political party the National Action Party (PAN) after the newspaper she wrote for also published news about corruption by public officials.
Protection measures that ultimately failed
Since 2021, the journalist had had municipal police patrols at her home, a protection measure from the State System for the Protection of Journalists, protection she accessed after the attacks on her vehicle, in line with what she told ARTICLE 19 in April of that year. She also had a ‘panic button’ on her mobile phone and at her home.
However, local public information from 10 April 2019 shows that Lourdes Maldonado had also requested protection around the time that she told the President of the Republic she feared for her life.
The situation for freedom of expression and journalism in Baja California has deteriorated over the last three years. ARTICLE 19 has documented a worrying trend of increasing attacks on journalists, with attacks rising from 20 in 2018 to 43 in 2021.
In view of the above and the murders of independent journalist José Luis Gamboa Arenas and photojournalist Alfonso Margarito Martínez Esquivel, ARTICLE 19 demands:
—That the Special Prosecution Service of Attention to Crimes committed against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) turn its attention to the case and investigate urgently and objectively, applying the Approved Protocol to investigate crimes against freedom of expression.
— That the authorities of Baja California coordinate with the federal authorities to grant security measures to the family, colleagues and lawyer of Lourdes Maldonado.
— That the Secretary of Public Security and Municipal Citizen Protection of Tijuana and all authorities involved refrain from issuing any communication that could stigmatise Lourdes Maldonado or distort the lines of investigation.
— That the Human Rights Unit of the Interior Ministry (Secretaríade Gobernación, SEGOB) Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists provide urgent protection to Lourdes’ family and colleagues in order to guarantee their safety and integrity.
ARTICLE 19’s Mexico and Central America regional office monitors attacks on freedom of expression, including violence against journalists, protests and surveillance. We work with rural communities on access to information to improve their ability to access the rights to health and education. We bring international attention to freedom of expression violations and train media workers and civil society to use freedom of information laws and defend freedom of expression rights online.
ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works around the world to promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of expression.