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Unanswered questions surround arrests in murders of Tijuana journalists

Activists in Mexico are criticizing the lack of transparency surrounding the murder cases of two Tijuana journalists. KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis explains why in Mexico big announcements of arrests mean less than you might think.

Reporters and activists are criticizing the lack of transparency surrounding the murder cases of Margarito Martinez and Lourdes Maldonado, the two Tijuana journalists who were gunned down in January.

Martinez and Maldonado were among five journalists killed throughout Mexico during the first month of 2022. The murders prompted an international outcry over the lack of protection for journalists in what is one of the world’s most dangerous places to report the news, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

In recent weeks, state and federal authorities in Mexico have trumpeted arrests made in Martinez and Maldonado’s cases — announcing them in nationally televised press conferences. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador personally announced the arrests in Maldonado’s case.


Three men were arrested on Feb. 9 in connection with Maldonado’s death. Then, on Feb. 25,10 men were arrested in connection with Martinez’s murder.

It is customary in Mexico to only release the first names and last initials of people arrested. But officials have not said what evidence they have against the suspects in each case or what motives they might have had for killing Margarito and Maldonado.

Journalists have been barred from covering the court proceedings, and none of the court documents have been made public.

“The truth is that they are keeping us in the dark,” said Sonia de Anda, a Tijuana reporter and member of the journalism collective Yo Sí Soy Periodista.

RELATED: Border journalists shaken after second reporter is gunned down in Tijuana in less than a week


Prosecutors said they recovered several guns — smuggled into Mexico from the United States — when they arrested the suspects in Martinez’s killing. However, they acknowledged that the firearms had not been tested to determine if they were used in that crime.

“We know our authorities, and we know that sometimes they rush to try to ease public pressure,” de Anda said. “But that does not mean we get justice.”

This lack of transparency following arrests is somewhat common in Mexico, said Jan-Albert Hootsen, Mexico’s representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“Over the past six years since I joined CPJ, I’ve seen a repeating pattern in which suspects of the murders of journalists were arrested — after which, in most cases, we didn’t hear much else,” he said.

The overwhelming majority, 95%, of all crimes against the press in Mexico are never prosecuted, according to CPJ.

“In order for justice to be served in a case, prosecutors, of course, have to present credible evidence which will ultimately lead to sentences against both the triggermen and the masterminds behind murders,” Hoosten said. “As it stands right now, this is not the case in either Margarito’s or Lourdes’ case.”

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.