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Mexico: The Case of Miroslava Breach must be completely clarified

Monday 24 August 2020 - 5:47pm

Miroslava Breach Velducea was shot outside her home in Chihuahua on 23 March 2017

Update - 15 June 2021

On 15 June 2021, a federal judge in the state of Chihuahua, México, sentenced Hugo Amed Schultz Alcaraz, the former mayor of the Chihuahua city of Chínipas, as part of an abbreviated trial, similar to a plea bargain, in which Schultz admitted responsibility for his role in the murder of Miroslava Breach in exchange for a reduced sentence, according to a statement by Propuesta Cívica, a legal non-profit organisation that represents the journalist’s family at the trial.

PEN International welcomes the sentence and renews their call to the government of Mexico to continue the investigations to clarify the crime completely.

PEN International and its centres in San Miguel de Allende and Guadalajara welcome the verdict and sentence to 50 years in prison of Juan Carlos Moreno Ochoa, alias El Larry, for his participation in the murder of the journalist Miroslava Breach Velducea and renew their call to the government of Mexico to continue the investigations to clarify the crime completely.

Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International, comments that “This sentence represents an advance in the struggle against impunity for crimes against communicators. Nevertheless, we still must raise our voices to put an end to impunity for violence and persecution against this profession. We will never forget the courage and determination of Miroslava Breach.”

On 18 March 2020, Federal Judge Nestor Pedraza Sotelo pronounced a decision against Moreno Ochoa after 17 days of trial in which more than 50 witnesses testified. On 18 August 2020, the trial was resumed –it had been interrupted by pandemic. The sentence to 50 years in prison was announced on Friday, 21 August 2020, and this marks a precedent in the access to justice for crimes committed against journalists in Mexico, since the case was litigated at the federal level as a murder related to the victim’s journalism.

According to Reporters Without Borders and Propuesta Cívica, after almost three years from the beginning of the legal process and 31 days of trial, “It was shown that Miroslava was a victim of homicide as a consequence of her journalistic investigations. Furthermore, the intellectual author of the crime was identified. He was a leader in drug trafficking and had political connections. Witnesses who are specialists in criminal investigation exposed how the narco-politics in the Chihuahua mountains functioned, with the possible involvement of the present local government in the crime, an unresolved link in this investigation.”

Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International, recalled that “90 percent of the crimes against journalists in Mexico remain unpunished. We continue to be witnesses to the death of journalists as a tragic fact and also a metaphor of a state which asphyxiates the right to freedom of expression. The case of Miroslava Breach is the means to a real access to justice.”

The assassination of Miroslava

Veteran journalist Miroslava Breach Velducea was repeatedly shot in the head outside her home in Chihuahua on 23 March 2017. Breach Velducea, aged 54, was a well-known journalist whose twenty-year career focused on reporting on political and social issues, often covering corruption. Her most recent work exposed connections between local politicians and drug cartels. She worked as a correspondent for the national paper La Jornada, and contributed to several other news outlets. Shortly before her murder, Breach had headed a corruption investigation. The federal Special Prosecutor for Attention to Crimes against Freedom of Expression (Fiscalía Especial para la Libertad de Expresión - FEADLE) launched an investigation into her murder.

In December 2017, the federal police arrested to Moreno Ochoa, associated of Los Salazar– a criminal organisation affiliated with the Sinaloa Cartel – who they have indicted as the mastermind (intellectual author) of the crime. The authorities were seeking a 70-year prison sentence. An individual thought to be one of the perpetrators (material authors) of the crime was reportedly found dead in Sonora state in December 2017. Other individuals suspected of involvement in her murder remain at large.

The federal authorities are reported to have made it plain in the indictment that Breach Velducea was killed as a direct reprisal for her work as a journalist. Evidence points to a report published in 2016 in which Breach Velducea indicated that the two major political parties had put forward candidates with connections to organised crime for mayoral positions in several municipalities. One such candidate, she reported, was the nephew of the leader of Los Salazar. Read more about the case of Miroslava Breach here.

PEN International and the PEN Centers call on the Mexican authorities to continue the investigation and actions necessary to bring to justice all those responsible for the crime, without discounting lines of investigation that lead to the interior of local governments and public functionaries, to continue protecting the family members of Miroslava Breach as well as journalists at risk in the country by means of the Mechanism of Protection for defenders of human rights and journalists and to revise protocols for action to give efficient protection.

Translation: Lucina Kathmann, Vice President of PEN International