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Mexican journalist gunned down in first fatal attack on press of 2020

David Agren in Mexico City
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Mexican journalist gunned down in first fatal attack on press of 2020

A Mexican journalist has been shot dead in broad daylight as violent crime in the country – and attacks on the press – continue amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Related: Mexico’s human rights chief draws fury for asking if journalists have been killed

María Elena Ferral was shot eight times on Monday by the masked pillion rider on a motorcycle as she left a notary public’s office in Papantla, a city plagued by organised crime in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz.

She was taken to a nearby hospital, but died of her injuries several hours later, according to the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (known by its French initials, RSF).

Ferral reported for the Veracruz newspaper El Diario de Xalapa and founded the news website Quinto Poder de Veracruz, where she investigated sensitive issues such as crime, corruption and the police.

The motive for her murder remains unclear and no suspects have been arrested. She had received death threats from a local political candidate in 2016, according to the news weekly Proceso.

Threats and harassment from local politicians prompted Ferral to seek protection from a state commission for protecting journalists. The government later withdrew the bodyguards assigned to her, according to RSF.

Ferral’s death marked the first case of a murdered journalist in Mexico this year. The country registered 10 murders of journalists in 2019 and RSF ranks Mexico 144th of 180 countries on its most recent press freedom rankings.

More than 100 journalists have been murdered in Mexico since the country launched a militarised crackdown on drug cartels in 2006. And Veracruz, where organised crime and political power are sometimes hard to tell apart, has become a cemetery for reporters.

The state’s ruling party has changed twice since 2016 – with an ally of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador winning in 2018 – but observers say Veracruz remains rife with dangers for reporters and activists.

“There have been changes in government in terms of party colours, but there hasn’t been any change in terms of security for journalists,” said Miguel Ángel Díaz, founder of the Veracruz publication Plumas Libres.

“Investigations into aggressions against journalists and activists in Veracruz are stalled. There are no advances, there are no convictions.”