El Salvador

57th General Assembly Washington, DC October 12 – 16, 2001 EL SALVADOR Many officials continued to hold back information of public interest, making it difficult for reporters to obtain information, especially for investigative reporting. The most serious case of intimidation of sources occurred in August in the Public Prosecutor’s Office when the national attorney general, Belisario Artiga, threatened to apply Article 324 of the Criminal Code to officials who reportedly leaked a document to Diario de Hoy. The document was a report by special prosecutor Roberto Vidales about lawyers, many acting as judges, who did not have degrees authorized by the Education Ministry or whose degrees were obtained improperly. An unknown number of copies of the report were printed by the Attorney General’s Office and distributed to the Supreme Court, the National Council of the Judiciary and other unspecified officials. It is worth noting that the document did not say anywhere that it was confidential, as the Attorney General’s Office alleged, and did not have the signature of any responsible authority as author. Nevertheless, parts of the document were published by the morning newspaper, after its authenticity had been confirmed, including the names of the lawyers being investigated, because it was undoubtedly of public interest. The continuing threat by the prosecutor’s office in several cases has caused widespread fear in the judicial system, so that now, even in minor cases, officials refuse to answer reporters’ questions, which obstructs freedom of information. In another case, Wilfredo Avelenda, chief of the Metropolitan Region of the National Civil Police, expelled a woman editor and a photographer of the morning newspaper Más from the police station after violently denouncing them for the publication in their paper of accusations of sexual harassment against him in court. The expulsion prevented the journalists from properly covering the capture and release of two soldiers accused of threats, which was an attack on press freedom. There has been no official response to a verbal protest made by Más management to the public relations director of the National Civil Police. Neither of the journalists who were verbally attacked and expelled was involved in the news report that upset Avelenda. La Prensa Gráfica reported difficulties its reporters face in obtaining information from the president’s office and the Supreme Court. “Information about decisions by divisions of the Supreme Court is manipulated by the public relations director. He hands out the decisions to the media at his convenience. He has openly expressed his anger to La Prensa Gráfica for what he considers ‘bad treatment’ of the court’s justices. He also refers to criticism and reports of deficiencies in the administration of justice.”