Unidentified assailants attacked the home of Mexican journalist Gabriel Valencia Juárez at about 10:15 p.m. on December 31, 2016, according to media reports. Valencia, who was inside at the time of the attack, was only a meter from where one of the 9mm caliber bullets struck a piece of furniture, the reports said.
Investigators found casings of two 9mm caliber bullets at the journalist’s home, according to a statement released by the Chihuahua state’s attorney general’s office. Valencia, who lives in Guachochi, a town of about 15,000 inhabitants in the state’s mountainous Sierra Tarahumara region, was quoted in media reports as saying he heard three shots fired.
According to media reports, Valencia told authorities that in recent years he had been threatened over his work as a journalist. The reports did not provide further details about the threats or possible motives. Valencia told authorities that the attack “may have happened because of a news article I published,” according to El Universal, a Mexico City newspaper.
Valencia is the founder, editorial director, and principal reporter of Norawa, a local news magazine produced in Guachochi since 2004. He is also the regional correspondent for El Heraldo de Chihuahua, a major newspaper based in the state capital, Chihuahua City. He mostly covers social and environmental issues, indigenous rights, and education for Norawa and El Heraldo, and is an avid user of social media, posting regular updates to Norawa‘s Facebook page. The most recent issue of Norawa, published in December 2016, included reports about clashes between the army and members of organized crime and perceived corruption within the local chapter of a teachers’ union. For El Heraldo de Chihuahua, his most recent stories included a report on logging in September 2016 and bad weather conditions.
Attempts by CPJ to reach Valencia by phone and social media on January 3 and 4, 2017 were unsuccessful.
Patricia Mayorga, a correspondent in Chihuahua state for the Mexico City-based Proceso magazine and a spokesperson for the Free Journalism Network of Chihuahua, told CPJ that the Guachochi police department has posted several patrol cars at Valencia’s residence. The attorney general said in its statement that it had provided Valencia with protection and alerted the relevant authorities to activate the safety mechanism known as the Protocol for the Protection of Journalists.
“The Guachochi region is a very dangerous one, with some of the highest levels of violence in the state. The network advised Valencia to leave Guachochi after the attack, but he told us he wanted to stay,” Mayorga said. “He informed us three or four years ago that someone had broken into his house and stolen his computer,”
Chihuahua state has been a focal point of violent crime for over a decade, with the Sierra Tarahumara region, which houses a large indigenous population, one of its most violent regions. At least three reporters have been murdered in the state in direct retaliation for their work in the past ten years, according to CPJ research.