Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez Soto has won his asylum appeal to remain in the United States, a media advocacy group announced, more than a decade after he sought refuge amid threats and a fear of persecution in Mexico.
The National Press Club (NPC) said on Thursday that the Board of Immigration Appeals recently ruled that Gutierrez – who has been fighting attempts to expel him from the US – was eligible for asylum.
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“It has been a long journey, and these past 15 years have been difficult. But today, justice has won,” Gutierrez, 60, said in a statement shared by the US-based organisation.
“I hope that my case will shine a light on the need to protect those journalists in Mexico and around the world who are working and risking their lives to tell the truth.”
Gutierrez is one of several journalists whose cases have drawn attention in recent years, including Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is being detained in Russia, and freelance reporter Austin Tice, who went missing in Syria more than a decade ago.
His case also shone a spotlight on the dangers journalists face in Mexico specifically. The country has seen a rise in fatal attacks against reporters, making it one of the deadliest places to work as a journalist in the world.
Free speech group Article 19 said in a report in March that Mexican journalists faced record levels of harassment, intimidation and violence last year, with one attack against a media worker recorded every 13 hours.
The NPC has been pressing Gutierrez’s case since 2017, when US officials moved to deport him just weeks after he accepted the club’s press freedom award on behalf of Mexican journalists who “are routinely targeted by drug cartels and corrupt government officials”, it said.
Gutierrez was 45 when he left Ascension, a city in Mexico’s northern state of Chihuahua, after a source informed him that “his reporting on the military’s efforts to shake down locals had made him a marked man”, the press club said in Thursday’s statement.
The Committee to Protect Journalists advocacy group also said in 2018 that if Guterres were to be sent back to Mexico, he “would face possible retaliation for [his] past reporting on corruption in the Mexican military”.
In its decision, dated September 5 and shared by the NPC, the Board of Immigration Appeals wrote that Gutierrez had “a well-founded fear of persecution in Mexico on account of his political opinion and particular social group membership”.
“Consequently, [he] has demonstrated eligibility for asylum,” the board ruled.
Representatives for the Department of Homeland’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Reuters news agency.