National Press Club

National Press Club renews its call: #FreeEmilio; petition garners 21,000 signatures

December 26, 2017 | By Kathy Kiely |

Following the brutal Dec. 19 assassination of another Mexican reporter, Gumaro Pérez Aguilando, the National Press Club and its nonprofit Journalism Institute are renewing their call for U.S. authorities to grant asylum and freedom to this year's NPC Press Freedom award-winner, Emilio Gutierrez Soto.

On Dec. 22, National Press Club General Manager Bill McCarren traveled to El Paso to deliver a petition with nearly 17,000 signatures in support of the journalist's case. In a Tweet following his El Paso visit, McCarren said that the number of signatures had increased to more than 21,000. Dozens of press organizations are supporting Gutierrez's asylum appeal.

Perez's murder, before children assembled for his son's Christmas pageant at a school in Veracruz, could be the 12th journalist murdered in Mexico this year, according to a tally compiled by Reporters Without Borders.

It came despite Perez's enrollment in Mexico's Commission for the Care and Protection of Journalists, an organization launched by the government following a wave of violence against reporters. And the latest murder came as the Club is urging U.S. authorities to rescind a deportation order against Gutierrez and his son, Oscar. The two fled to this country in 2008 after the elder Gutierrez's reporting on abuses by Mexico's military made him the target of death threats.

They had been living and working in Las Cruces, New Mexico while Gutierrez's asylum case languished for years in legal limbo. In July however, El Paso immigration Judge Robert Hough denied the two men asylum, concluding, among other things, that Gutierrez "failed to establish that the Mexican government would be unable or unwilling to protect him." He also suggested that Gutierrez could ensure his security by relocating elsewhere in Mexico, away from the town where he had done his reporting.

Hough's decision is now before the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals. The National Press Club and its Journalism Institute have written a letter asking the board to grant Gutierrez's asylum petition and to free him from detention in El Paso, where he has been confined since immigration authorities detained him on Dec. 7.

"We have said repeatedly that Emilio should not have to prove his journalism bonafides and that Mexico is the most dangerous country other than Iraq and Turkey to be a practicing journalist. Emilio is a proven colleague," said Club President Jeff Ballou. "The assassination of Gumaro Perez in front of children at a Christmas party is brutal evidence of endangerment that we wish we did not have to present. Being pressed to prove Emilio is a journalist and having to present another colleague's murder are both examples of everything we think is wrong with Judge Hough's decision. It underscores why Emilio is worried about his safety, and why he has good reason not to trust that he will be protected by his government."

Added Journalism Institute President Barbara Cochran: "Perez's murder took place in Veracruz, hundreds of miles southeast of Chihuahua, where Emilio lived and worked. So that seems to undercut the judge's theory about relocation as a means to journalist security. The fact is, there is no safe place in Mexico for journalists."

Earlier this year, the National Press Club urged U.S. authorities to grant asylum to Martin Méndez Piñeda, another reporter who fled after being threatened. He worked in Acapulco, on the opposite coast of Mexico from Veracruz. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement found he had "credible fear" or returning to his country, but refused to release him from detention. After months in conditions that he described as intolerable, Mendez returned to Mexico, where he is now in hiding.