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AP expands on annual report of environmental activists killed

A Yaqui Indigenous man wears a bandana over his mouth as he walks past the cemetery where slain water-defense leader Tomás Rojo is buried in Potam, Mexico, Sept. 27, 2022. From 2010, when state authorities built a pipeline to siphon off the Yaquis’ water for use in the state capital, to 2020, Rojo led a series of massive demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience defending the Yaquis’ rights. (AP Photo / Fernando Llano)

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Reporter Mark Stevenson, video journalist Fernanda Pesce, photographer Fernando Llano and video producer Teresa De Miguel in Mexico City teamed up on strong reporting from the field to elevate coverage of a global report on environmental activists killed around the world.

When the non-governmental organization Global Witness reached out to AP and other organizations about its annual report — 200 environmental activists killed globally in 2021 — AP decided to go beyond the announcement itself to find a story illustrating the findings.

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Mexico City-based reporter Mark Stevenson, right, interviews César Cota, a water activist and member of the Yaqui tribe, on the Oviachic dam near Ciudad Obregon, Mexico, Sept. 27, 2022. – AP Photo / Fernando Llano

Global Witness said Mexico was the deadliest place in the world for environmental and land defense activists in 2021,with 54 people killed last year. De Miguel began searching for a subject,eventually landing on one in the state of Sonora,just south of the Arizona border. She shared initial contacts with her Mexico collegues,and within days,Stevenson,Pesce and Llano traveled to the town of Vicam,where they told the story of Yaqui Indigenous water-rights activist Tomás Rojo, found dead in June 2021.

Authorities claim Rojo was killed by a local drug gang that wanted money from the Yaquis,but people who knew him say he was killed by the powerful interests that stand to profit from the Yaquis’ land and water rights.

While most other news outlets were content to publish just the findings of the Global Witness report, the AP team’s on-the-ground reporting produced a vivid all-formats package that added a human dimension to the sobering numbers.

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