El Salvador


Report to the 72nd General Assembly

Mexico City, Mexico

October 13 – 17, 2016

In the last few months the press welcomed advances in the justice system in punishing serious attacks upon freedom of expression. Nevertheless, there continue to be from the political power control and hiding of public information, which prevents learning about wrongdoing in the handling of public funds and the clarifying of criminal cases of influence trafficking.

Due to those the Constitutional Court and independent news media have become the target of attacks by government forces.

On October 8 the secretary general of the government party FMLN, Medardo González, mounted an attack against the newspapers La Prensa Gráfica and El Diario de Hoy in a public governmental act in which he called on his militants not to believe in those media, which he accused of disseminating "lies."

In addition there have been unprecedented proceedings in the Constitutional Tribunal of the Supreme Court of Justice to require action by the Presidency to hand over documentation requested by various media and civil organizations. For this reason there has been unleashed a marked discrediting campaign on the part of the Executive Branch against the high court, and from other government areas, including pro-government labor unions.

La Prensa Gráfica and El Diario de Hoy have been the target of campaigns and calls for a commercial boycott by the mayor of San Salvador after the two papers were victims of a series of cyber attacks carried out by individuals who are now on trial and who worked for companies directly linked to the mayor. These people have direct links to the operation of the mayor's online campaigns and strategies.

This is evidenced by the significant praise that the El Salvador justice system has received for solving and punishing these matters: At the request of the Attorney General's Office its counterpart in the United States, the Justice Department, handed over to the judicial authorities a full report that uncovers the structure of cyber frauds that had been carried out to attack the two media outlets.

The document confirms the accusations and experts' opinions made concerning several informational technicians hired by the San Salvador mayor's office who are being formally prosecuted, along with the local Communications head, Sofía Medina. It shows how two of them purchased domains abroad to produce spurious pages of the formal Web sites www.laprensagrafica.com and www.elsalvador.com. The report of the United States Attorney General's Office includes details even of what credit cards were used to pay for the spurious sites and other incriminatory details.

Attorney General Douglas Meléndez confirmed in February that also under investigation is the mayor himself, Nayib Bukjele, who immediately responded by mounting a demonstration outside of the Attorney General's offices with the participation of the FMLN official party's secretary general, Medardo González, government Transparency Secretary Marco Rodríguez and other government representatives.

Coincidentally, González attacked the two media in the October 8 demonstration.

In the same February demonstration the council member publicly called for a boycott of the two media outlets and was wearing in front of everybody a t-shirt with slogans calling for them not to be bought.

The implications of the case are so serious that evidence, such as telephone calls and reports confiscated from the technicians by the authorities, were transferred to a less secure Public Prosecutor's office, from which they were robbed. The theft occurred in full daylight.

In late November the court that has the case will be deciding if it and those accused will face justice.

In recent months there have also been promoted criminal proceedings against journalist Héctor Silva Ávalos, co-editor of the magazine Factum, for alleged libel and defamation of businessman Enrique Rais.

Silva has been brought before a court in the city of Santa Tecla by Rais, who is seeking damages of a half a million dollars.

Silva is facing trial for publication in his online magazine of a mention of Rais.

He said that he has all the evidence that shows he did go to the lawyers and to the businessman before publishing the text in order to include his version, as also is required by El Salvador legislation.

The attempts by officials to send intimidating messages have not been lacking in recent months.

As was reported in August by the Press Freedom Committee and denounced by the IAPA the El Salvador National Defense Ministry carried out a clear act of intimidation and harassment of the newspaper La Prensa Gráfica.

Instead of following the procedure that the law requires regarding a piece of information that was published about shortages of weapons, the Defense Minister, General David Victoriano Munguía Payés, made himself be accompanied by 86 more military chiefs in a press conference to demand an explanation of what is prohibited under the law.

The minister repeated the claims against the newspaper in interviews in other media, turning the case into a demonstration of military force against the paper.

Another event that is a precedent for justice and respect for freedom of expression is the clarification of the murder of radio journalist Nicolás Silvestre García, committed on March 10 in the village of El Jicaro in Tacuba, Ahuachapán province.

Four people suspected of the crime were arrested and are awaiting trial, while three others are on the run. All belong the same gang.