In El Salvador, 11 sentenced in filmmaker’s 2009 slaying

New York, March 10, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes Wednesday’s sentencing of 11 defendants in the brutal 2009 slaying of Christian Poveda, left, a French photojournalist and filmmaker who had spent decades documenting gang violence in El Salvador. Twenty other suspects, accused of being accomplices, were acquitted. 

“The conviction of 11 men in the murder of Poveda sends an important message that impunity in crimes against journalists will not be tolerated,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas. 

A special tribunal for organized crime sentenced Luis Roberto Vásquez Romero and José Alejandro Melara, two high-ranking members of the Salvadoran Mara 18 gang, to 30 years imprisonment on charges of masterminding and carrying out Poveda’s killing, according to local and international press reports. Mara member Keyri Geraldine Mayorga Álvarez was found guilty of being an accomplice and sentenced to 20 years in prison, press reports said.

Eight other individuals, including seven gang members, were handed four-year sentences on charges of criminal association. One, former police officer Juan Napoleón Espinoza Pérez, had labeled Poveda as a police informant, which was believed to have been a motivating factor in the murder, the San Salvador-based online newspaper ElFaro reported.

Poveda, a 52-year-old Frenchman of Spanish descent, had documented violence in El Salvador as a filmmaker and photojournalist over the course of three decades. Throughout 2008, the journalist worked on a highly anticipated documentary about one of the country’s most violent street gangs, Mara 18. During the filming, Poveda lived with gang members for 18 months. The documentary, “La Vida Loca,” showed brutal killings, rites of initiation, and the judicial system’s ineffectiveness in combating gangs. Local press reports said Poveda had received death threats from angry gang members.

On September 2, 2009, Salvadoran police found Poveda’s body sprawled near his car on an isolated road in the town of Tonacatepeque, about 10 miles (15 kilometers) from the capital, San Salvador, according to local and international press reports. He had been shot in the face at least four times at close range. Authorities found an audio recorder and the journalist’s press credentials at the scene. Local police arrested several suspects in September 2010.

Twenty other suspects tried in relation to Poveda’s killing were acquitted, press reports said, although all are serving sentences in other cases, ElFaro reported. The attorney general’s office said it would appeal the acquittals.