Former police chief drops criminal-defamation suit against Ciudad Juárez journalists

New York, October 6, 2000 — Former Ciudad Juárez police commissioner Javier Benavides González announced earlier this week that he has dropped the criminal-defamation suit he had filed against editor Jesús Antonio Pinedo Cornejo and reporter Luis Villagrana of the weekly Semanario.

Benavides had alleged that he was defamed by an article in Semanario on February 28 entitled “History of police officers and drug traffickers.” The article linked Benavides with the drug trade.

Pinedo Cornejo was detained in relation to the suit on September 19. He was held overnight and released after posting bail of 15,000 pesos (US$1,590). Villagrana appeared voluntarily before the court, and also posted bail of 15,000 pesos. The journalists faced two years in prison if convicted of the charges.

Benavides’ announcement came on October 2, a few days after CPJ sent a letter to Chihuahua State Attorney General Arturo González Rascón urgently requesting clarification about alleged violations of due process for the journalists. [Click here to read about CPJ’s letter.]

“This is great news for journalists in Mexico,” said CPJ’s deputy director Joel Simon. “While CPJ believes that journalists must be responsible for what they write, we believe that criminal penalties for defamation-related offenses inhibit the work of journalists and violate freedom of expression guarantees. This is especially true in the case of public officials, who are subject to scrutiny and criticism from the citizens they serve.”

Benavides resigned from his post as police commissioner of Ciudad Juárez on September 18; he is expected to join the security team of President-elect Vicente Fox Quesada.