44 Free Speech Becomes Dangerous – Danette Berrios
Author: Danette Berrios, Pima Community College
We often take for granted the unlimited access we have to all types of information here in the United States. Everyone knows about the saying “Knowledge is power” but how many are aware of the alarming reality in many other countries where knowledge is heavily restricted, monitored, and controlled. Even now with all of our technological advancements, countries led with a firm hand take extreme measures to silence the voices trying to expose corruption. The government in these countries works to limit free speech by censoring access to any unapproved material. From altering political narratives in their favor to banning certain media/apps. According to tech expert Paul Bischoff, in North Korea and China, they shut down messaging apps from abroad, forcing residents to use ones that have been made (and are likely controlled) within the country, e.g. WeChat in China. Not only does WeChat have no form of end-to-end encryption, the app also has backdoors that enable third parties to access messages” (Comparitech). Although that is the extreme case scenario, even in countries without these restrictions many journalists who take it upon themselves to investigate and share important information are highly at risk.
A prime example of this in the past year in the case of Maria Elena Ferral, a 49-year-old journalist who was dedicated and locally known in Veracruz Mexico. Among the devastating number of journalists killed as a result of their work according to this news article, “sixty-eight human rights advocates and 43 journalists have been murdered since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office in December 2018, according to a government report” (Rocha). Ferral was shot in plain daylight at the entrance to a Notary Public’s office 18 days after a publication made with speculations regarding heated politics in the Gutiérrez Zamora region of Veracruz. In an interview with her daughter, it was revealed that Ferrals last publication pointed fingers as well as connected the death of 4 potential candidates that were running for mayor in Gutierrez Zamora. This town is notorious for being optimally located for criminal groups to access and carry out a number of illegal activities like human/drug trafficking as well as stolen goods. Therefore, it’s not a reach to see a potential link between the death of those politicians and Ferrals death, shortly after theorizing the connection.
Maria’s shooting was not the first time she had encountered violence throughout her career. In an interview with her daughter after her death she states “‘My mom knew there was a price on her head because there were constant threats. … When the [political] murders began, I told her to stop [writing about it], to consider how things were unfolding. She said she’d think about it” (Carmona). So why did shs risk her life just to make the exclusive information she had public? To Ferral this was not only a career to make a living but her passion to be voice in the community of truth so it was imperative that she made her work public. As a result of her work 11 arrest warrants were isssued in relation to her death and the deaths of those previous politicians.
It is quite apparant that the efforts to protect journalists is bare minimum. Although some shield laws exist in the US to protect journalists from having to disclose unpublished information this is not the case in other countries. In mexico especially laws need to be put in place not only to protect freedom of speech but also lower impunity for the murders of those that speak out on corruption. According to Reporters without borders, “a call was made for the Mexican government to reduce impunity in crimes against journalists by 2% per year. Impunity in these types of cases currently stands at 98%.” (Espinosa). It’s pretty outrageous to think that at this point in time those 11 men arrested for Maria and those other politicians may be roaming free to attack their next victim. Action needs to be taken directly by lawmakers and an uproar for change needs to be created by the community demanding change.
Bischoff, Paul. “Internet Censorship 2021: A Global Map of Internet Restrictions.” Comparitech, 28 Sept. 2021, www.comparitech.com/blog/vpn-privacy/internet-censorship-map/.
Carmona, Miguel Ángel León. “Murdered for Her Journalism – María Elena Ferral Hernández.” Global Initiative, 11 Sept. 2020, globalinitiative.net/analysis/maria-elena-ferral-hernandez/.
Espinosa, Eduardo. “Mexico: Setbacks to Freedom of Expression in 2020: Reporters without Borders.” RSF, 12 Nov. 2020, rsf.org/en/news/mexico-setbacks-freedom-expression-2020.
Rocha, Jorge Antonio. “Mexico Reports 68 Activists, 43 Journalists Murdered in Past 3 Years.” Anadolu Ajansı, www.aa.com.tr/en/americas/mexico-reports-68-activists-43-journalists-murdered-in-past-3-years/2303492.