Journalist Slain at Interview -- Mexico's 4th This Month

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- A journalist with an online news outlet was preparing to record a video interview Monday when he was shot by assailants, becoming the fourth journalist killed in less than a month in Mexico, the outlet's director said.

Roberto Toledo had just arrived at the law offices of the deputy director of the outlet, Monitor Michoacan, when three armed men shot him, said Monitor director Armando Linares, who had also planned to be there.

"Twenty minutes before I had told him by phone that we were going to meet at the office to interview a person," Linares said. "I got held up a little and he arrives before I do, goes in, closes the door, but almost immediately they rang."

Prosecutors in the western state of Michoacan said they were investigating the case in the city of Zitacuaro. The Michoacan State Attorney's Office said in a statement that Toledo died from his wounds at a hospital.

Toledo recorded video stories and had been working for Monitor Michoacan for two years, Linares said.

Linares painted a delicate landscape of risky reporting. His outlet was covering sensitive issues: three Indigenous communities are working toward self-government; organized crime is active in the area; and there is illegal logging and corruption in local government.

He said in a video message announcing the death earlier Monday that the website had received threats for reporting on governmental corruption

"For exposing corrupt administrations and corrupt officials and politicians, today that led to to death of one of our colleagues," Linares said.

"The Monitor Michoacán team has suffered weeks, months of death threats. We know where all of this comes from," Linares added, though he did not identify those he thought responsible.

Linares said he was now receiving protection from the National Guard.

Jan-Albert Hootsen, the Mexico representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said Toledo worked as a camera operator and video editor for Monitor Michoacan.

"We are classifying him as a media worker or press worker," Hootsen said.

Toledo was filming a new video column by Monitor Michoacan's deputy director, Joel Vera, a local lawyer, at Vera's office when the gunmen arrived, Hootsen said.

Jesús Ramírez, spokesman for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, said via Twitter that the administration condemned Toledo's killing.

"We will work together with the state and municipal governments to clear up the case," Ramírez wrote. "We will not allow impunity. We defend freedom of expression and the right to information."

In a subsequent message, Ramírez said the initial investigation suggested Toledo worked in a legal office not as a journalist.

The National Academy of Radio and Television Journalists said in a statement that Toledo and other members of the Monitor Michoacan staff had denounced aggression and death threats connected to their work.

Toledo was enrolled in the federal government's protection system for journalists and human rights defenders known as "el mecanismo" or mechanism, the academy said. It did not say what sort of protection Toledo had received. It can range from carrying a panic button to alert authorities in case of emergency to surveillance cameras installed around a home or even bodyguards.

Linares, however, said that he did not think Toledo was enrolled in any protection system. He said the outlet's deputy director did receive protection.

The unprecedented spate of killings has put reporters on edge across Mexico, and sparked protests earlier this month. The government says over 50 journalists have been slain in Mexico since December 2018.

In the border city of Tijuana, two journalists were killed in the space of a week. On Jan. 17, crime photographer Margarito Martínez was gunned down outside his home. On Jan. 23, reporter Lourdes Maldonado López was found shot to death inside her car.

Reporter José Luis Gamboa was killed in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz in an attack Jan. 10.

Interior Undersecretary Alejandro Encinas said recently that more than 90% of murders of journalists and rights defenders remain unsolved, despite a government system meant to protect them.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists puts the percentage at 95%, said Hootsen.

Late Monday, Linares said Toledo's killing was making him consider whether to go on.

"I was already thinking about leaving because I didn't see good conditions to continue," Linares said. "And today with this confirmed it ... I don't see good security to continue with this media outlet."