El Salvador


Report to the 75th General Assembly of the IAPA

October 4 – 7, 2019

Coral Gables, Florida

The media, journalists and columnists are facing restrictions that are contrary to the rule of law – coming from the government of President Nayib Bukele, officials and like-minded groups on social networks.

Restrictive policies range from blocking journalists' access to government press conferences – as has happened to reporters from the digital media El Faro and Factum – to the detention, intimidation and threats against a photojournalist from El Diario de Hoy by military personnel of the Presidential General Staff – who forced him to erase photographs of Bukele's inauguration on June 1 – as well as the subsequent suspension of all official advertising in El Diario de Hoy for denouncing the blockade against journalists from El Faro and Factum.

Journalists and media columnists have not escaped the stigmatization generated by digital mobs. A writer from El Diario de Hoy was told "I hope they rape you," because she wrote a tweet criticizing the government.

On September 6, during the launch of the Investigative Commission against Impunity (CICIES) project, journalist Gabriel Labrador, photojournalist Víctor Peña from El Faro, and Fernando Romero – a journalist from Factum – were denied access. Rodrigo Baires – another El Faro journalist – was also denied access to a press conference at the Presidential House on September 11.

After the first incident, the government defended the measure, claiming that journalists from both media had shouted and behaved inappropriately in previous instances. Bukele himself wrote ironically that they acted as if they were being "victimized."

Later on, access was granted to a third press conference in which the president was asked about his connection with loans granted in 2013 by the firm Alba Petróleos – formed by the Venezuelan PDV Caribe and several left-wing mayors – and currently under investigation for alleged money laundering.

Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have questioned the actions and warned that they constitute acts of "prior censorship," prohibited by international law.

Journalist Bryan Avelar – from Factum magazine – denounced in June that an employee of the official communications team prevented him from registering on the list to ask questions once he knew the name of the media the journalist worked for. He said: "There is no more space."

He was also prevented from asking questions at the press conference in which Bukele announced the second phase of his government's security plan – known as Opportunities.

On September 16, Factum denounced that Avelar was receiving threats and slander on social networks "from accounts related to the Presidency of the Republic" and blamed the government for "promoting hatred against independent journalism."

In June, the Association of Municipal Workers (ASTRAM) published attacks on Facebook and Twitter against journalist Fernando Romero - from Factum magazine – for criticizing Labor Minister Rolando Castro.

After publishing the blockade against the journalists from El Faro and Factum, on September 7 the government suspended several advertisements in El Diario de Hoy – its spokespersons said it was because of the denunciation they had disseminated – generating criticism for the practice of indirect censorship and misuse of public funds to serve government interests.

During Bukele's inauguration on June 1, members of the Presidential General Staff detained Jorge Reyes – a photojournalist from El Diario de Hoy – for filming the moment when a woman was prevented from delivering a letter to the president. The officers threatened him with jail if he did not erase the photos – that did not occur thanks to the intervention of Raquel Caballero de Guevara – Human Rights Ombudsman – who happened to pass by.

The journalist denounced the incident before the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDDH).

During a national TV program activist and tweeter Bessy Ríos asked the government to stop attacks and accusations against human rights defenders; soon after, several Twitter accounts linked her to illegal groups and threatened her with death.

Focos presenter Karen Fernández received threats of sexual violence and was discredited on social networks after voicing her opinion on the communication strategy of the Territorial Control Plan developed by the Bukele government.

President Bukele replied in his Twitter account that there are journalists who disinform in an attempt to ruin the security plan promoted by his government. He then stated that "a half-truth is worse than a thousand lies," in reference to a tweet written by journalist Mariana Belloso – from La Prensa Gráfica – who was bombarded with insults and threats. Even Walter Araujo – former president of the Supreme Electoral Court – insulted the journalist on Twitter and urged her to "shut up".

Erika Zaldaña – then president of the Center for Legal Studies and columnist for El Diario de Hoy – denounced threats against her after commenting on a tweet by President Bukele about arrests. "I received almost 400 replies and most of them were 'I hope they rape you.'

In June, the Institute for Access to Public Information (IAIP) confirmed the appointment of Javier Portillo as executive director. As former advisor to the Transparency Department, he was known for defending secrecy in several areas related to the Presidential House, including travel information, travel allowances, advertising expenses and internal audit of the administration of former president Mauricio Funes – now prosecuted for the diversion of 351 million dollars and nationalized in Nicaragua. Portillo resigned from the IAIP.

Deputies to the Legislative Assembly denied journalists access to the session in which they agreed to ask the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice for an extension until July 13 to issue a new reconciliation law.

Two TVO journalists were assaulted by agents of the National Civil Police (PNC) while covering an act of violence in La Carmenza neighborhood, district of Hato Nuevo in San Miguel.

Transmission equipment and computer hard drives were stolen from Radio Bálsamo – a community radio station that promotes environmental protection in El Bálsamo mountain range and surrounding areas in the department of La Libertad.