London, April 1, 2021.- In his March 31st press conference, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador sought to discredit the work of ARTICLE 19, an organisation dedicated to the defence of freedom of expression, by accusing the organisation’s Mexico office of waging a “conservative campaign” against him with other conservative groups, and being funded by the United States to do so.
The deeply problematic language used by the President reflects intolerance of the work of those who seek accountability for human rights abuses. As International Board members of ARTICLE 19, we know that the work carried out by our colleagues in ARTICLE 19 Mexico and Central America has been essential in promoting freedom of the press and the right to information in the country.
We are individuals from different regional backgrounds with no common political stance other than a dedication to journalism, law and human rights activism. We fully support people’s ability to freely express themselves without intimidation or violence and to hold those in power to account. These issues were part of the agenda that López Obrador himself raised in his presidential campaigns.
As Board Members, we have always been transparent about our sources of funding, which are publicly available. The president is welcome to see that our funding comes from a broad base of foundations and governments from around the world that support civil society projects in dozens of countries. Part of the funding for our Mexico office comes from the US government’s Agency for International Development, which has also provided funds for human rights initiatives in which the federal government itself participates.
But beyond that, we are concerned about the way in which the president has moved away from support for a free and open press, which is fundamental to ensuring democratic society. For more than a decade, throughout different partisan governments, ARTICLE 19 has fought to defend journalists from harassment by powerholders and to seek citizens’ access to public information and communication technologies free of censorship.
ARTICLE 19 Mexico’s annual reports are a compendium of how freedom of the press, access to information, and digital rights have deteriorated in Mexico over the years. These reports have been presented during the governments of Felipe Calderón, Enrique Peña Nieto and Andrés Manuel López Obrador and are considered one of the main sources of information on these issues in the country.
We are proud that ARTICLE 19 has been the key player in some of the most emblematic cases of freedom of expression in recent years. The organisation led the legal defence of investigative journalist Lydia Cacho as she sought justice for her torture and kidnapping, obtaining a public apology from the Mexican State; it was part of the group of organisations that revealed the use of Pegasus software to spy on journalists and activists during the government of Enrique Peña Nieto; it promoted legal challenges that led to the Supreme Court forcing Congress to legislate on public advertising.
ARTICLE 19 has a track record of working in partnership with the Mexican government to establish a protection mechanism for the safety of journalists, promote open government and build institutional mechanisms to support the right to information. Recently, we have been working with the government to make public the archives related to serious human rights violations during the ’60s-’80s. The centrality and seriousness of our work is reflected in the statements of support from over 160 organisations and individuals following the president’s attack.
The organisation also headed the legal defense of Sanjuana Martínez, now director of Notimex, when her journalistic work put her at legal risk. The legal team, led by the current director of the office, Leopoldo Maldonado, managed to have the lawsuit against her withdrawn.
Last year, ARTICLE 19 collaborated with Aristegui Noticias and ITESO’s SignaLab in revealing a network of online attacks against government critics orchestrated from the leadership of Notimex. As International Board members, we fully support this work as part of ARTICLE 19’s mission to bring about a world where all people everywhere can freely express themselves and actively engage in public life without fear of discrimination.
What happened at the conference on March 31st is yet another example of a growing intolerance of criticism by the federal government. This is not new to the work of ARTICLE 19, which has worked for three decades to bring freedom of expression and information in authoritarian regimes. What worries us is that Mexico is taking the same path.