MEXICO CITY – The hacked-up bodies of a photojournalist and another young man have been found in the northern Mexico city of Saltillo, authorities said Thursday.
Photographer Daniel Martinez Bazaldua, 22, had recently been hired to cover social events for Vanguardia, the paper said in a story in its online edition. Officials identified the other man as Julian Zamora, 23.
Saltillo is in northern Coahuila state, an area where the Zetas drug cartel is active. Another Coahuila newspaper recently announced it would no longer publish stories about drug gangs, after receiving threats apparently signed by a Zetas leader.
State prosecutors said the bodies were found Wednesday in a jumbled pile of severed parts on a street, next to a hand-lettered message that appeared to indicate the Zetas were responsible for the killings.
The state government said the sign suggested the two young men had deserted from a drug gang.
Coahuila state Attorney General Homero Ramos told reporters later that investigators had testimony indicating both men "were participating in illegal activities."
Vanguardia criticized that accusation, noting that the message left at the scene also contained threats to police.
"We think it is sad and alarming that Coahuila has become a state in which the authorities condemn murdered people, converting them into criminals, without offering the least evidence," the newspaper wrote.
"Only a serious, professional investigation can find out the truth that society deserves," Vanguardia said.
Vanguardia Editorial Director Ricardo Mendoza told The Associated Press that Martinez Bazaldua was "very calm," "friendly" and "enthusiastic," and said he did not know whether the killing was related to his work as a photographer.
In some cartel-plagued cities in Mexico, covering even the society section can be dangerous, because cartel leaders may hang out at prominent social events and get angry if they are included in photos. In some cases, if they want the attention, they can be angered if they are left out.
The Inter-American Press Association condemned the photographer's killing and demanded authorities do a thorough investigation. It also said it was regretful that state authorities almost immediately linked him to organized crime.
"It's irresponsible that without doing a minimal investigation, authorities immediately linked the killings a vengeance by members of organized crime," it said.
Four journalists have been killed in Coahuila and two more have gone missing since 1989. None of the cases have been solved, the association said.
Press advocates have long called Mexico one of the most dangerous nations for reporters. But there isn't a single, agreed-upon figure on crimes against journalists.
The Committee to Protect Journalists says in its latest report published in February that 12 Mexican journalists went missing in 2006-2012 and that in the same period 14 were killed because of their work. Mexico's human rights commission lists 81 journalists who it says have been killed since 2000.
In 2012, Mexico's special prosecutor for crimes against freedom of expression said 67 journalists had been killed and 14 had disappeared in the country since 2006.
On Thursday, the lower house of congress approved a bill that would allow journalists to request that federal prosecutors and federal judges investigate attacks on them, and to establish cases in which such federal intervention would be obligatory. The bill was previously approved by the senate and has now been sent to the president for his signature.