El Salvador

EL SALVADOR One of the most important cases affecting press freedom is the confrontation between public officials and journalists because of a lawsuit filed at the beginning of March by legislator Francisco Merino of the National Conciliation Party. He has accused four journalists of La Prensa Gráfica (Mauricio Bolaños, Gregorio Morán, José Zometa and Alfredo Hernández) and one from the afternoon newspaper El Mundo (Camila Calles) of defamation. The journalists recently published statements by Judge Ana Martina Guzmán de González of San Luis Talpa accusing Merino of having made a threatening telephone call to her. The judge has publicly opened the case of alleged illegal transactions involving municipal property by the mayor and council of San Luis Talpa in which Merino is mentioned. Merino alleges in a document presented to the national prosecutor that the articles offend his good name. Merino, who was vice president during the administration of President Alfredo Cristiani, was in the news on August 26, 2000, when he shot and injured a policewoman, threatened a private security guard and damaged a police car, apparently while drunk. The assembly began an investigation to see if a preliminary hearing should be held concerning withdrawal of his parliamentary immunity, but there were not enough votes to do so. The provisions of the new criminal procedures codes closing certain phases of trials to journalists are still in effect. The principal argument in favor of them is based on the principle of “presumption of innocence” of suspects. Also, it is forbidden to publish photographs, names or descriptions of minors, even if they have committed serious offenses, such as rapes, murders and kidnappings.