A Mexican journalist enrolled in a federal protection programme has been shot dead, the fifth reporter to be killed this year in one of the most dangerous countries for the press.
The blood-soaked body of crime reporter Francisco Romero was found on a pavement outside a nightclub in his hometown of Playa del Carmen along Mexico’s Caribbean coast on Thursday, authorities said.
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Romero ran a Facebook-based news site called “Ocurrio Aqui” (It Happened Here) that covers local politics and crime and had more than 17,000 followers. He also worked for one of the state’s leading newspapers, Quintana Roo Hoy.
The state prosecutor’s office opened a homicide investigation, saying Romero had filed a complaint on April 12 over threats he had received. The source of those threats was not specified.
Romero’s wife Veronica Rodriguez said he had regularly received threats over his work, which sometimes rubbed local government officials the wrong way.
“He had received a lot of threats. Too many threats. The authorities in Mexico City knew about them,” Rodriguez, 40, told AFP news agency.
“The last time wasn’t even two weeks ago. They threatened him, saying that if he didn’t do what they wanted, they were going to kill him … They said they knew where our son studied, that they were going to throw him off a bridge,” she said.
Reporters Without Borders said Romero received a phone call at 5am on Thursday, informing him about some incident at a local nightclub called the Gotta Gentleman Club.
Although he had four bodyguards, provided by the government, he had sent them home at 10pm the night before, it said in a statement.
Romero, who also had a panic button to alert the authorities if his life was in danger, went without them to the club. His body was found an hour later.
Witnesses said he was beaten and shot twice in the face, the organisation said.
Romero was under an official protection programme for journalists since 2018, according to Balbina Flores, Mexico director for Reporters Without Borders.
The government programme provides different kinds of security to under threat journalists and human rights activists, ranging from panic buttons to home surveillance to bodyguards.
Reporters Without Borders said the killing officially made Mexico the deadliest country in the world for journalists so far this year.
Last year, the watchdog group ranked the country the third most dangerous in the world for the press, after Afghanistan and Syria.