Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez speaks to Club from detention center
Speaking by phone from a detention center in Texas, Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez, who won the National Press Club’s International Press Freedom award in October, told a Club press conference Monday he would be killed if he is deported to Mexico.
Gutierrez, who has been a refugee in the United States since 2008, said he fled his native country after a Mexican general and colonel threatened his life because of his reports on the corruption of the Mexican military. His reports said Mexican troops were robbing citizens. His house was ransacked, and he learned he would be killed if he stayed. As soon as he crossed the border, he registered as a refugee.
But after Gutierrez and his son spent eight years in the U.S., a federal judge in July denied his refugee status, and he lost an appeal in November. The judge questioned both Gutierrez’s journalism credentials and the threat to his life if he returned.
He is now being held in an ICE detention center in Sierra Blanca, Texas, where he said conditions were so horrible that he is considering going on a hunger strike. His attorney is appealing the latest decision, which could take months.
“Please, please do not forget us,” Gutierrez said through his attorney, who translated his pleas. “Do not forget to publish the pain, the terrifying situation I am in and the terrifying manner that journalists have to work in Mexico.”
Calling the Mexican government a criminal organization, he said such organizations would not exist with such power if they did not have the support of the government.
Gutierrez said Mexican authorities would be waiting for him if he were forced to go back to Mexico.
“I have a death sentence,” he said. “They are waiting for me. As soon as I am deported, I will be killed.” Many journalists have died in Mexico, but "not one person has been arrested and tried,” he said. "Our life is dependent on this process. I ask all of you to please not abandon us, please."
The Club has taken up Gutierrez’s cause with the support of 20 other journalism organizations.
“The burden of proof on those seeking asylum appears to be huge, virtually unattainable,” John Donnelly, chairman of the Club’s Press Freedom Committee, said at the press conference. “Emilio Gutierrez is not making up the threats he faces. Does a reporter have to be shot before we believe him?”
In an interview in the Washington Post on Saturday, Bill McCarren, the Club’s executive director, said, “this is a critical, existential issue for Emilio, but also a critical issue for all journalists in Mexico. It’s a concern for us that the United States, that stands for free press as a bedrock principle of our democracy, would not make a place for him here when he is so clearly at risk.”
The Club has created a petition drive called #FreeEmilio at Change.org: https://www.change.org/p/department-of-justice-do-not-deport-award-winning-journalist-emilio-gutierrez-to-mexico