“I hope the government doesn’t give in to the authoritarian temptation to block internet coverage and start arresting activists,” Mexican blogger and activist Alberto Escorcia told Index on Censorship magazine.
Escorcia had just received a series of threats for writing an article about recent unrest in the country. The next day the threats against him intensified. Feeling trapped and unprotected, he began making plans to flee the country.
Many people are concerned about the state of freedom of expression in Mexico. A stagnant economy, a currency in freefall, a bloody drug war with no end in sight, a deeply unpopular president at home and the belligerent Donald Trump administration freshly installed in the USA across the border, these forces are all creating a squeeze in 2017.
One of the biggest tensions is Mexico’s own president. Enrique Peña Nieto’s four years in office have brought sluggish economic growth. There has also been resurgent violence and a string of corruption scandals. In January this year his approval ratings plummeted to 12%.
But when journalists have tried to report on the president and his policies they have come under fire. For example, 2017 began with intense protests after Peña Nieto announced a 20% hike in petrol prices. Days of demonstrations, blockades, looting and confrontations with police left at least six people dead and more than 1,500 arrested. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that police beat, threatened or briefly detained at least 19 reporters, who were covering the unrest in the northern states of Coahuila and Baja California.
News was not just suppressed, it was fabricated. Mass hysteria enveloped Mexico City as legions of Twitter bots incited violence and spread false reports of further looting, causing the temporary closure of 20,000 small businesses.
“I’ve never seen Mexico City like this,” Escorcia said over the phone from his home in the capital. “There are more police than normal. There are helicopters flying above us every hour and you can hear sirens constantly. Even though there hasn’t been any looting in this part of the city, people think it’s happening everywhere.”