Just days before he was murdered in Sinaloa’s capital, Culiacán, on 15 May 2017, Javier Valdez referred to Miroslava Breach, a journalist who had just been murdered in the neighbouring state of Chihuahua. “Miroslava was killed because she talked too much,” he wrote. “May we all be killed if that is the price for denouncing this hell. No to silence!”
The founder of the Culiacán-based weekly Riodoce and a correspondent for the Mexico City- based daily La Jornada and for AFP, Valdez was one of the few journalists to openly criticise the Sinaloa government’s permissive attitude towards the drug cartels, and he did not hesitate to name the region’s drug traffickers or publish their photos.
On 8 June, federal judge José Noé Egure Yañez found Juan Francisco “El Quillo” Picos guilty of participating in Valdez’s murder. The judge is scheduled to pronounce sentence between 18 and 21 June.
Picos’s role in the murder was proved by a total of 58 pieces of evidence presented at the trial by the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) and by Propuesta Cívica’s lawyers. Both the FEADLE and Propuesta Cívica insisted that the judge take account of freedom of expression in his deliberations.
Irrefutable evidence presented at the trial showed that Valdez’s murder was planned in advance. Picos’s conviction was the result of determined action by Propuesta Cívica, with RSF’s support, and by organisations that represent victims. Their work assisted the efforts of Mexico’s local, federal and judicial authorities.
The trial highlighted the importance of Valdez’s journalism and the impact of the last things he wrote, which openly denounced the Sinaloa cartel’s criminal activities. The judge found that his murder was a direct result of his investigative reporting. Damning evidence was also presented against alleged instigator Dámaso “Mini Lic” López Serrano, the head of a drug-trafficking group who surrendered to the US authorities in 2017 in connection with other criminal activity.
“This verdict sets a major precedent in the fight against impunity for crimes of violence against journalists in Mexico, one of the world’s most violent countries for the media,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau. “It constitutes a source of hope for the hundreds of other cases of violence that are still unpunished.”
The case has tested Mexico’s criminal justice system and, in particular, has drawn attention to the many challenges that both local and federal prosecutor’s offices face in order to improve their investigative methods. Furthermore, the case is not yet closed*. The authorities have not yet tried and convicted the presumed instigator.
RSF and Propuesta Cívica, which hail the courage and perseverance of the Valdez family in its pursuit of justice, have recommendations for the Mexican authorities:
For the court that tried Juan Francisco Picos
- Pass an exemplary sentence by imposing the maximum jail term and ordering full reparation for the victims.
For the prosecutor general’s office
- Implement the wanted notice in order to effect the arrest of the murder’s presumed instigator, by using all necessary means and resources.
- Take all necessary initiatives at the international level in order to obtain the extradition of the murder’s presumed instigator.
For the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Journalists (SEGOB)
- Maintain the protective measures for Javier Valdez’s family.
For the Executive Commission for Attending to Victims
- Carry out its mission with regard to this murder’s indirect victims and ensure that their right to reparation is respected.
Mexico is ranked 143rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.
*The murder’s three perpetrators are now out of harm's way: Juan Francisco Picos has just been convicted; Heriberto “El Koala” Picos was sentenced to 14 years and six months in prison in 2020; and Luis Ildefonso “El Diablo” Sánchez was murdered in 2017.