Mexican photojournalist killed after taking photos of bodies along a road

By David Agren

A Mexican photojournalist has been killed after taking pictures of dead bodies left alongside a road, bringing Mexico’s death toll of journalists to nine this year.

Jaime Castaño Zacarías happened upon the dead bodies with their hands bound in northern Zacatecas state on Wednesday morning, following a clash between drug cartels in the city of Jerez, according to media reports.

When Castaño left the scene on a motorcycle, he was pursued by gunmen, who shot him dead. When police arrived they found that a memory card with images of the crime scene had been removed from Castaño’s camera, Zacatecas Online reported.

Castaño’s murder on Wednesday underscored the misery and risks of reporting in Mexico, the world’s most murderous country for journalists in 2020.

Mexico has topped the list of countries with the most journalists killed for four of the past five years, according to a tally by the International Federation of Journalists.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 119 have been killed in Mexico since 2000.

The vast majority of cases wallow in impunity as shoddy investigations are often the norm. Police forces, prosecutors’ offices and some politicians, meanwhile, are sometimes cowed by criminal organisations or accused of colluding with them.

The prosecutor’s office in Zacatecas state has not commented on Castaño’s death, though sources told the newspaper El Universal they were investigating the involvement of organised crime. Parts of the state have turned into a cartel battleground as the Jalisco New Generation Cartel disputes drug-running territories in Zacatecas.

Covering crime scenes can be especially perilous in Mexico: the journalist Israel Vázquez was murdered last month as he followed up on a tip that body parts in plastic bags had been dumped in a rough neighbourhood of Irapuato in western Guanajuato state.

Castaño had been covering a municipal government event on the morning of his death and was heading for the town hall when he encountered the dead bodies, according to press reports.

Castaño worked as a photographer for the Jerez municipal government and moonlighted part-time as a journalist, maintaining the news site PrensaLibreMx. PrensaLibreMx did not have a section dedicated to police or crime coverage.