Just after sunset on Thursday, February 10th, 2022, two men in a white Dodge Ram pickup pulled up in front of Heber Lopez Vasquez’s small radio studio in southern Mexico. One man got out, walked inside, and shot the 42-year-old journalist dead. Lopez’s 12-year-old son Oscar, the only person with him, hid, Lopez’s brother declared.
Lopez was one of 13 Mexican journalists killed in 2022, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based rights group. It was the deadliest year on record for journalists in Mexico, now the most dangerous country for reporters in the world outside the war in Ukraine, where CPJ says 15 reporters were killed last year.
A day earlier, Lopez–who ran two online news sites in the southern Oaxaca state–had published a story on Facebook accusing local politician Arminda Espinosa Cartas of corruption related to her re-election efforts.
As he lay dead, a nearby patrol car responded to an emergency call, intercepted the pickup, and arrested the two men. One of them, it later emerged, was the brother of Espinosa, the politician in Lopez’s story.
Espinosa has not been charged in connection with Lopez’s killing. She did not respond to multiple requests for comment and Reuters could not find any previous comment she made about her role in corruption or on Lopez’s story.
Her brother and the other man remain detained but have yet to be tried. Their lawyer did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“I already stopped covering drug trafficking and corruption and Heber’s death still scares me,” said Hiram Moreno, a veteran Oaxacan journalist who was shot three times in 2019, sustaining injuries in the leg and back, after writing about drug deals by local crime groups. His assailant was never identified. “You cannot count on the government. Self-censorship is the only thing that will keep you safe.”