The Mexican government has announced a new low-key press strategy regarding detained drug trafficking suspects, breaking away from the former administration’s tactic of parading them in front of the media.
President Enrique Peña Nieto’s communications team announced that suspects will now be identified using their real names rather than aliases, and the authorities will no longer arrange press photographs of detainees before trials. They will also end the practice of publishing the name of the criminal organization that a suspect allegedly belongs to.
Officials added that media must not broadcast the detention or presentation of suspected criminals, as to do so violates Article 63 of the Federal Radio and Television Law, which prohibits “apology for violence or crime.”
The government’s list of the 37 most-wanted criminals, which gives their aliases and cartel affiliations, will also be changed.
Government representative Eduardo Sanchez Hernandez told news agency Notimex, “We will report in a neutral tone and refer to the suspects by their first and last names, like any other citizen.”
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The Mexican government’s new strategy marks a departure from the controversial approach of the former administration, in line with Peña Nieto’s stated intention to break away from his predessor’s “reactionary” security strategy to focus on violence prevention.
Former President Felipe Calderon’s policy of parading suspected criminals before the press had been criticized by both Mexican politicians and international observers for glorifying crime and failing to meet human rights standards on the treatment of detainees.
As one congressman commented last year, setting up press conferences in which alleged drug bosses posed for cameras in front of weapons, cash and drugs, can give suspects kudos and create false heroes for young people.
In a 2011 report, US-based campaign group Human Rights Watch warned that Mexico‘s justice system “often presumes suspects are guilty until proven innocent, rather than requiring the prosecution to present solid evidence” — a violation of international human rights law.
The report documented the torture, extrajudicial killing and disappearance of crime suspects by security forces, who were found to be abusing civilians under the cover of the Calderon administration’s “war” on drugs. The new government’s change of policy is thus welcome news, albeit a small step.