Mexican reporter's murder leads to widespread protest of violence against journalists and impunity

By Cat Cardenas and Teresa Mioli

When Javier Valdez’s colleague Miroslava Breach was killed in Chihuahua on March 23 of this year, Valdez wrote on Twitter, “No Al Silencio” (No to Silence), a rejection of censorship and violence against the press in his country. Following his own murder, Valdez's colleagues have picked up those words to continue the fight.

Journalists across Mexico and the world took to the streets and the internet on May 16 to protest violence against journalists and the murder of Valdez, who was killed the day before in Culiacán, in Sinaloa state.

The death of the well-known and respected journalist, the fifth to be killed in Mexico this year, led to widespread and resounding condemnation of the way journalists are treated in the country. This is in contrast to the reaction following the majority of murders of journalists in Mexico.

Hundreds of people from Mexicali in Baja California to Quintana Roo marched through their cities with signs and photos of Valdez and other slain journalists, demanding justice in their deaths.

In Mexico City, “Nos Estan Matando” (They are killing us) and “No Al Silencio” were written in large white paint on the street in front of the Angel of Independence, the most iconic intersection of the city.

Ríodoce, the newspaper Valdez founded in 2003 and where he still worked, reported on a protest that made its way inside the Government Palace and gathered around Governor Quirino Ordaz Coppel’s office.

The state official met with a group of 100 people and agreed to comply with four proposals made by Ríodoce co-founder Alejandro Sicairos, according to Ríodoce. However, the newspaper added that he did not answer what would happen if there weren’t results with the case or if another journalist was killed.

At the demonstration in Mexicali, protesters read a statement calling attention to the fact that not a single arrest has been made in relation to any of the journalists murdered this year, according to Animal Político.

“Those of us who are involved in the field of journalism are raising our voices, demanding results from the authorities because it can no longer be possible for these murders to go unpunished because the message it sends is that there is no punishment for murderers, for aggressors, for those who look to silence us, and with us, silence society,” the statement said.

More than 40 writers, journalists and editors, including Lydia Cacho and Carmen Aristegui, condemned the murder in an open letter.

Some outlets, like Animal Político, have chosen to stop operations for the day as a show of solidarity with Valdez and the other reporters who have been murdered this year.

A similar black banner dons their home pages: photos of the journalists killed in Mexico this year and statements rejecting the treatment of journalists and impunity.

The hashtag #UnDíaSinPeriodismo (A Day Without Journalism) was trending on Twitter and appeared alongside others like #NiUnoMas (Not one more), #NosEstánMatando (They are killing us), #PrensaNoDisparen (Press,don’t shoot), and Valdez’s words #NoAlSilencio.

Other publications are using the front pages of their print editions to protest.

Valdez’s portrait covered the May 16 print edition of La Jornada, the national newspaper he worked for as a correspondent in Sinaloa.

In an editorial column, the newspaper urged the federal government to take action in response to Valdez’s murder and argued that they’ve played a role in the increased violence plaguing the country.

“The fact is that the ultimate responsibility for the deaths of Javier, Miroslava [Breach] and all the communicators who have been murdered in this country — a number that has increased exponentially since Felipe Calderon declared an irresponsible and counterproductive 'war' against organized crime — rests with those who govern, who have not been able to guarantee the right to life of its citizens, who have acted idly at best in response to the sharp deterioration of public security, who have fed the spiral of violence to the conversion of what was originally a police problem into a matter of national security, and who have been silent in the pursuit and delivery of justice.”

News of Valdez’s murder drew international attention. One of the most well-known and respected journalists in Mexico, he became an authority on covering the violence in Sinaloa, often acting as a resource for foreign journalists reporting on the drug wars.

Many of those journalists took to Twitter on Monday to express their gratitude, sadness and anger.

Like Animal Político and other Mexican sites, Spanish-language editions of international sites, like HuffPost MéxicoVice Mexico and Fusion en español did not publish any articles on May 15, and others made other shows of solidarity, like turning their homepages black.

The homepage of Vice Mexico features a black and white counter for the number of journalists killed in Mexico from 2000 to 2017: 105.

International entities and nonprofits have strongly condemned the murder.

Irina Bokova, the director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) denounced the murder and called on authorities to conduct an investigation.

"I condemn the murder of Javier Arturo Valdez Cárdenas. This crime is yet another stark reminder of the dangerous conditions in which all too many courageous journalists exercise their profession and that attacks on them undermine the fundamental human right of freedom [of] expression as well as freedom of information."

Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, mourned Valdez’s loss in a statement released following the murder. Valdez won the organization’s  International Press Freedom Award in 2011.

“His loss is a blow to Mexican journalism and to the Mexican public, who see a shadow of violence spreading across the country,” Simon said.

President Enrique Peña Nieto broke his silence on the mounting violence against journalists in the country by tweeting his condemnation of Valdez’s murder.

The leader announced that he referred the case to the Attorney General's office, where the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) could assist the authorities.

The president has been criticized for not taking a harder stance on attacks against journalists. Following the murder, he was the target of many Tweets criticizing the level of violence and impunity in the country.

According to Article 19 Mexico, 32 journalists have died in Mexico while Peña Nieto has been in office.

The federal government’s Mechanism of Protection for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists and the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (Feadle for its initials in Spanish) have both been sharply criticized by watchdog groups in the country and internationally.

Human rights lawyer Ricardo Sanchez Perez del Pozo recently took over as head of Feadle, which will work with the Attorney General of Sinaloa to investigate Valdez’s murder.

Just on May 4, Peña Nieto told CPJ that the security and protection of journalists would be a priority during his final 19 months in office.

During Tuesday’s protests, many called on the president and his administration to uphold that commitment.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.

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