Ten days before she was murdered outside a Mexican convenience store, Yesenia Mollinedo noticed two mysterious stalkers following her on a motorcycle.
“We know where you live, bitch,” one of them warned the journalist, director of an online media called El Veraz (The Truthful) whose motto is “Journalism with humanity”.
For more than a year, Mollinedo, 45, had tried to brush off what she hoped were empty threats meant to silence the stories she had published about crime in the coastal town of Cosoleacaque. She repeatedly changed her phone number in an attempt to escape the bullying. “I don’t think anything will happen to me,” Mollinedo insisted when relatives asked about his safety.
But around 1:15 p.m. last Monday, it was. As the reporter exited the store with a rookie colleague, the assassins surged forward, firing 16 shots that would end the lives of both women.
‘Yesenia owed nothing to anyone,’ her brother, a fellow journalist called Ramiro Mollinedo, said this week as grief-stricken family members put her to rest and worried for their own safety now that her sister was dead. part. “We don’t know who we are up against,” he admitted.
Mollinedo and Sheila Johana García were the first of four female journalists to lose their lives in the line of duty last week, a butchery spasm that shocked the world.
Two days later, Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh, a veteran observer of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was shot in the head while covering a planned Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank.
The following day, a 29-year-old Chilean journalist, Francisca Sandoval, died after being shot in the head while covering May Day protests earlier this month.
“Francisca was the most wonderful mother and daughter,” recalls Gabriel Cardozo, a photographer at Señal 3 de La Victoria, the channel where Sandoval had worked.
“She was one of those people who would always watch over you… How can you express your pain at losing someone you’ve lived with so much?”
The death of so many journalists in such a short time has sparked international outcry and soul-searching in newsrooms from Mexico City to Doha.
“All we wanted to do was our job,” said Shatha Hanayshe, a Palestinian journalist who stood next to the respected Al Jazeera reporter when she was shot while trying to document the incident. Israeli operation in Jenin.
“It will stay with me for the rest of my life,” added the 26-year-old journalist who appears frozen in place next to her colleague’s corpse in chilling footage showing the aftermath of the shooting. “There is no need to target us.”
Robert Mahonythe executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said each of the shootings was unique and took place in different circumstances: “But there’s a common thread here, which is that in 2022, we have seen a real upsurge in the number of journalists killed.
“It’s very difficult to draw a direct connection between any of these murders, except to say that it has become – and is becoming, I believe – more dangerous to do independent journalism,” Mahoney added.
Part of the increase in bloodshed is the result of the outbreak of war in Ukraine, where at least seven journalists have died since Vladimir Putin’s February 24 invasion. Thousands of civilians are also said to have lost their lives.
The startling rise in killings in Mexico, where local activists say 11 journalists have been murdered since January compared to seven last year, has also contributed to the global increase. ‘It’s censorship with guns,’ Mahoney said of the wave of organized crime-related killings in the Latin American country whose media-bashing president Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been accused of. to encourage violence with its populist rhetoric.
“[It’s] killing people to get a message across… [and] cause this real cancer of journalism that is self-censorship: when journalists stop or obey because it is simply too dangerous to do otherwise.
Yet activists say the killings are just the most dramatic expression of an increasingly bleak view of media freedom in an increasingly authoritarian world.
The Chinese city of Hong Kong – home to a feisty independent journalism scene until recently – has transformed in just a few years since Beijing imposed a draconian national security law. “There is now a palpable sense that the fight for democracy and media freedom has entered its final phase,” the International Federation of Journalists warned of China’s crackdown earlier this year, describing how many workers in media had been imprisoned or had fled the former colony in recent years. month.
Russian journalists have faced repression even before the invasion of Ukraine this year, while journalists from countries in the Middle East and Central Asia – and even democracies such as Viktor Orbán’s Hungary and the Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil – are coming under increasing pressure from governments who see them as an irritant.
Mahoney said her group was also concerned about the growing online harassment and intimidation of journalists, especially women, around the world. “Whether in the Philippines or India, more and more journalists are being attacked online and these online attacks can sometimes be a harbinger of a physical attack,” he warned, urging businesses of social media to take action.
CPJ President Jodie Ginsberg said covering the protests — like Francisca Sandoval lost her life in Chile — had also become increasingly dangerous for journalists.
“Journalists are no longer being killed in the crossfire: increasingly, they are being targeted,” Ginsberg added. “In the case of Shireen Abu Akleh, eyewitnesses say Israeli forces shot her while she was reporting and was clearly identified as ‘press’ and this follows a worrying trend by Israeli forces to target Palestinian journalists.
The first hints of the danger Mollinedo faced in Mexico began about 18 months ago, when his criminal cover began to attract an increasing number of threats. “Take this fucking story down or we’ll fuck you up,” they warned, according to her brother who said she deleted a series of stories in a bid to stay out of trouble.
The identities of Mollinedo’s assassins are a mystery and will likely remain so. Activists say more than 150 Mexican journalists have been murdered since the turn of the century, more than 90% of which remain unsolved and unpunished.
Valério Luiz Filho, a Brazilian lawyer whose journalist father was murdered almost 10 years ago as he left the radio station where he worked, said the influential perpetrators of these crimes should be held accountable if anything. had to change.
Ten years after his father’s lifeless body was found in a bullet-riddled car in the town of Goiânia, the five suspected killers – including a powerful local figure – have still not been convicted or imprisoned.
“Justice is showing these people that what they took has value. It means making them understand the value of the thing they exterminated,” Luiz said.
“There must be justice in these cases, whether in Chile, Mexico or elsewhere… [so people understand] that the journalists whose lives have been stolen are precious and that their work is precious too.
“Only justice will send this kind of message,” Luiz said, as thousands of mourners bid farewell to Shireen Abu Aklen more than 10,000 km from Jerusalem.