Photo: Pateando Piedras
“Only kisses will cover our mouths” – Madrid 2011
After the March 2016 report from Bloomberg Business “How to Hack an Election” regarding digital attacks carried out by Colombian hacker Andrés Sepúlveda in Mexico and due to past and present threats against digital media in Mexico, I translated the below statement written April 5, 2016 by Mexican journalist and bot researcher, Alberto Escorcia from LoQueSigue.
His statement denounces death threats, harassment and attacks he has received since 2011 while trying to report in Mexico and the obstacles he encountered when trying to report the threats.
By: Alberto Escorcia
I wrote this text after reading a courageous publication by [Colombian journalist] Catalina Ruiz-Navarro:
It all started in 2011 after I wrote an article questioning the harassment from the GDF against Andrés Lajous for his opinions regarding the Super Vía Poniente. Back then I was a graphic designer for the city government and wrote on my blog Pateando Piedras (“Kicking Stones”). Weeks later I was asked to resign without explanation. The next thing I want to highlight because the threats made against me have been constant, from May 2011 to November 2012, I worked on coordinating the portal pulsociudadano.com on Argos TV, property of Epigmenio Ibarra, after then I was unable to find work until 2015 giving a workshop in SinEmbargo.mx.
The first time they threatened me was days after December 1 and the modus operandi was the same:
2. A rumor was spread that the government of Mexico City was going to detain me; I learned about this via acquaintances.
3. Dozens of bots harassed me online saying they knew everything about me and to be careful. But due to an error of the operator of those bots – I learned the source of the threat: Alfonso Brito
I knew nothing about how to report this and defend myself, when I approached an NGO they told me they could only help me if I was a journalist, but since I wasn’t, it was complicated.
Others who approached me told me it was science fiction, it was just trolling and I was exaggerating. Only one international organization issued an alert, almost instantly the harassment ended. Like magic.
The next day an official from the office of Marcelo Ebrard sent me an apology and informed me that Alfonso Brito had left and no longer worked there. And indeed he left to work in the Legislature.
The circle of fear or “you’re crazy and you exaggerate”
When they threatened me the second time it was more elaborate, they sent letters to organizations, my clients, to people I love, my friends telling a fantastic story of how I was the worst person in the world and how I was a part of malevolent plan by Argos TV and Morena to end activism in Mexico. They made life impossible for many of my freelance clients, with audits or farfetched things as to why they could not hire me. At the same time more elaborate bots began to attack me and they took my website down several times trying to access a specific folder.
I backed up and encrypted this folder, making 2 copies that I sent outside of the country. One night I returned home and found boot prints and one of my windows open. I thought I was robbed but they didn’t take anything, just a hard drive where I had a copy of this folder.
The abduction attempt
The next day an anonymous list was spread in GDF of people who were pointed out as troublemakers of the city, and who called marches against Mancera and were critical of AMLO. Versions of that list circulated in blogs and in media like La Razón.
As the days passed the majority of those on the list were arrested, one is still in prison, and I was on that list along with two other people who were not detained. The organization Contingente MX issued an alert and gave me support.
One night some of us who were not detained met up in a march, we walked together from the Zócalo and when we arrived at the Monumento a la Revolución a patrol car approached us, a neanderthal got out and tried to kidnap one of us, fortunately people helped us and we ran to the CNTE encampment. Two months after as I was leaving a bar I was assaulted in a strange way because they didn’t take my money or my credit cards, only my laptop and my phone.
Asking for help was torture, I was told I was crazy, that I exaggerated, the letters online continued being published bothering people close to me. I survived only on income from my website.
The massive attack
The third time I was threatened was after an interview with Carmen Aristegui and the script was the same:
1. SDP Noticias published “dossiers” about me, very similar letters were sent to my family, friends and clients months earlier. I was accused of being a sort of strategist of Epigmenio Ibarra and López Obrador.
2. At the same time I received death threats from anonymous accounts and various “experts” quoted me in ridiculing columns.
A friend who then worked as a supervisor to the President of the Republic told me that there were people looking at my server to check what was said by Arreola. And that they were surprised to not find anything.
After those days, a massive cyberattack left my website disabled and I had to change companies.
The end of the attacks
Months passed and I received the fourth threat; it was massive. Hundreds of social media accounts sent me photos of dismembered bodies, death threats, photos of hitmen and photos of me they obtained from Facebook. That was just one day after Wired magazine published an article about me regarding the Peñabots.
Later they came to my apartment, banging on the entry door screaming my name and a Ciudad Segura camera was installed pointing at the door of my building. And that was when I decided to denounce again. I had already gone through the ordeal the first time and almost the same thing happened again.
Again various organizations and people who could help me told me I was exaggerating, that there were people who were really at risk. That it wasn’t so bad. That I should go to Tamaulipas or Veracruz to feel true fear. That I only wanted attention. And besides it was my fault for not protecting myself.
They scolded me for not encrypting my emails, my phone calls. It was the victim’s fault.
The magical silence
It was an ordeal. Fortunately, a person from Article 19 helped me and guided me through the process, dealt with my case and the daily threats and intents to disable my server stopped the moment I joined the Mecanismo de Defensa, (Defense Mechanism) and since then my site – until today – has not had any attacks and even though I’ve done more interviews I have not received any threats.
I was able to breath again after months of living in fear. I have never used encryption, I have no way to travel I’m just surviving, despite what they published about me in SDP Noticias I do not have a NASA-like server I have a simple one it costs me 90 pesos a month. I’m out on the streets and I don’t live like in a spy movie.
Because it is not the victim’s fault. We don’t have to get used to “shutting up.” We do not have to live in the spiral of fear. We do not have to endure harassment or fear.
“Those who should be afraid are they, not us,” a friend of mine who lives in Chetumal told me and who has experienced similar pressure, they follow him, they spy on him and he told me he decided not to change anything in his life because he has nothing to worry about.
We must not stop using the internet or sharing with friends, or stop expressing ourselves online.
In reading Catalina’s post today I felt relieved because she managed to avoid the circle of fear and I can relate, in the face of the scolding and contempt she had received for denouncing the violence.
Spread her courage, and by her example I’ve repeated what I saw on a banner from Madrid in May 2011 “only kisses will cover our mouths.”
Note: Since I joined the Mecanismo I had not received attacks on my website until April 5, 2016 when someone again attempted to gain access to my server thousands of times.