New York, January 19, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Mexican authorities today to thoroughly investigate the killing of José Luis Romero, a Mexican crime reporter who had been abducted on December 30. Romero, at left, was found dead on Saturday near the city of Los Mochis, in the state of Sinaloa, according to local news reports.
Romero, who worked for the private radio network Línea Directa, was kidnapped by several gunmen in ski masks before entering a restaurant in Los Mochis, the Mexican press reported. Romero’s body was found with signs of torture along a country road near Los Mochis early in the morning, Sinaloa’s assistant state prosecutor Rolando Bon López said. Romero was shot to death soon after he was abducted, and his hands and one of his legs were broken, Bon López said.
“We are shocked by the murder of José Luis Romero,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ senior program coordinator for the Americas. “We urge authorities in Sinaloa and at the federal level to conduct a speedy and thorough investigation into his slaying and to determine whether Romero’s murder was related to his work as a journalist.”
Romero had covered the police beat for the statewide radio broadcaster Línea Directa for a decade, News Director Luis Alberto Díaz told CPJ. According to Díaz, Romero was the victim of one of the two drug cartels who have been fighting an extremely violent war in the state. Díaz said murdering a well-known broadcaster fit into the cartels’ intentions to intimidate the public: “They want to seed psychosis among the audience, they want to terrorize,” he said. “They want to keep people’s mouths’ shut.”
Díaz said his staff was examining Romero’s recent work to see if there was something specific he may have said on the air that might have angered one of the two drug cartels.
The state prosecutor’s office said on Monday they had no leads in the case. The federal prosecutor’s office announced last week it would assist state authorities in the abduction investigation but that it had no further comment.
Events leading up to the discovery of the body would indicate that a drug cartel is responsible for Romero’s murder, local journalists told CPJ. Last week a banner appeared in a Los Mochis suburb saying that Romero was alive and being held in an area under the control of the Beltrán Leyva cartel, according to local news reports. The banner was allegedly placed by the opposing cartel, the Sinaloa, to divert attention from its own territory, local reporters said. Military and police units focused ground and air searches in the area mentioned in the banner and soon found a Beltrán Leyva cartel safe house with vehicles, weapons and drugs, according to local press reports.
Then, according to the state prosecutor’s office, an anonymous caller told the police where to find Romero’s body. State investigators said the body had been buried then dug up. Journalists covering the story in Sinaloa said they suspected the Beltrán Leyva cartel had murdered Romero and buried him in territory under their control but that the pressure of the investigation forced them to relocate his body and tell the police where it could be found.
Romero’s abduction and murder come at a time of increasing violence in Sinaloa state, as the two cartels fight for territorial control. Local news reports say that since the beginning of the month there have been more than 130 murders in the state.
Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries for the press, CPJ research shows. Since 1992, 43 journalists, including Romero, have been killed in Mexico. At least 18 were slain in direct reprisal for their work. Eight journalists have disappeared since 2005. Most covered organized crime or government corruption.