January 22, 2011 / 2:38 AM / in 8 years

U.S. court hears Mexican reporter's asylum bid

EL PASO, Texas (Reuters) - A Mexican journalist who fled what he said was persecution by the Mexican army began his bid for asylum at a federal immigration court in this border city on Friday.

Emilio Gutierrez Soto’s case was adjourned before witnesses could be called and will resume on February 4, according to the office of his attorney, Carlos Spector.

Gutierrez worked as a reporter for the Diario del Noroeste newspaper in Ascension, in northern Chihuahua state.

He fled Mexico with his teenage son in June 2008 after allegedly receiving death threats from the Mexican army following a series of articles detailing allegations of human rights abuses.

Father and son were detained by U.S. immigration authorities and held in separate detention facilities in Texas before being released pending the outcome of the asylum hearing.

Mexico has become an increasingly dangerous place for journalists to work in recent years, as raging drug cartel violence has soared to unprecedented levels.

More than 30,000 people have been killed in mayhem sweeping across the country since 2006, when President Felipe Calderon took office pledging to crush the brutal cartels.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 24 journalists have been killed in direct reprisal for their work in Mexico since 1992.

The organization says widespread intimidation of the media, particularly in northern Mexico where violence is fiercest, has led to widespread self-censorship.

Gutierrez is one of three Mexican journalists currently seeking asylum in El Paso. The city is located directly across the border from Juarez, where more than 3,000 people were murdered in 2010 as drug cartels and criminal groups have battled Mexican authorities.

Reporting by Alejandro Martinez-Cabrera; writing by Tim Gaynor; editing by Peter Bohan

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