El Salvador

Report to the IAPA
March 28, 2020


Freedom of expression and of the press are facing the most serious dangers of the last decades and they have been threatened and violated by unprecedented actions such as the entry of troops in the Legislative Assembly headed by President Nayib Bukele.

In this period began to take shape an autocratic government regime that obstructs laws and criticisms. The government seeks to impair, discredit and intimidate its opponents whether directly or through third parties, in person or through social media.

On February 9 the Legislative Assembly suffered an unprecedented act when 30 soldiers armed with rifles took control and surrounded the seats of the congress members in expectation of President Bukele entering the session. Bukele sat on the chair of the Assembly president and sounded the bell to begin the session, an act of lack of reverence and transgression of the separation of powers, an action widely condemned.

Members of the Presidentail Batallion, carrying rifles, intimidated the journalists that were covering the events. The Association of Journalists of El Salvador (APES) condemned the aggressions against journalists.

The conflict began two days earlier when the Council of Executive Branch Ministers, with jurisdiction in situations of extreme urgency, called a plenary session for approval of discussion of a $109 million loan for the security area. Several legislators complained that they were sought in their homes and that then the police withdrew its security. Meanwhile the Defense and Security ministers reaffirmed their loyalty to Bulkele.

Media are facing a growing blockage of access to public information in various institutions. The government named an official of its confidence as head of the Institute of Access to Public Information (IAIP) who had to resign after receiving criticisms.

The IAIP blocked more cases of requests for access to public information and in the face of access by media and citizens it has sought protections in courts serving as shields of governmental institutions in order to continue denying information. The El Diario de Hoy newspaper and other independent media continue suffering the discrimination of officials of the Presidency for making questions in Presidency press conferences.

It is frequent that governmental communicators take note of the media that will make questions and in some cases want them to give them ahead of time. Immediately the media point out that they will raise the questions, but at the time of the conference word is given only to those that are related, in harm to the independents.

Followers that show they favor the officialism continue accusing and threatening on social media those that dare to question the government.

The newspaper La Prensa Gráfica has suffered on at least two occasions the usurpation of logos, typography and color charts by a fake news Web site that calls itself "Lasprensasgráficas" and that is known to be operated by the Web site TV Channel. On February 3 it denounced the first case and on March 1 the newspaper complained that they again cloned it and warned that it reserved the right to sue TV Channel.

Previously La Prensa Gráfica and El Diario de Hoy had suffered the cloning of their Web sites. On that opportunity there were charged several technicians of an informatic company linked to the San Salvador mayor's office, when President Bukele was the mayor. Those responsible were put on trial, but the judiciary absolved them. One of the accused absolved in the trial called "Troll Center," Sofia Medina, is the highest communications official of the government.

The mayor's office of San Salvador, whose head is Ernesto Muyshondt, signed a contract of services of video vigilance that include apparatus and a system capable of checking the movements of citizens in the city. The contract has a value of $85 million for 15 years. Several media denounced irregularities and possible breaches of the law.

A forensic analysis carried out by Tod Lundsrtröm, director of the technical division of the Qurium Media foundation which offers technical support and cybersecurity services to media with the aim of guaranteeing press freedom, determined that from a university abusive scanning had been made. The authorities of the studies center removed themselves from the case, but said they discovered that one of their technicians counted on programs for those informational operations.

San Salvador Mayor Muyshondt has issued several messages on his not giving statements to El Diario de Hoy because the newspaper has questioned him about the granting of a vigilance video to a company without it having been approved by the Legislative Assembly. The mayor refused to respond to questions by journalists of El Diario de Hoy and Factum, arguing there was a campaign against him. The mayor's office has accumulated four complaints against the IAIP, one of them of El Diario de Hoy.

In October the digital investigation media Factum denounced that a computer of a private university in the east of the country was involved in the hacking of its servers and in a DDOS attack, interrupting access to the site for a week. Factum has used multiple servers during five years in order to overcome DDOS attacks, according to a forensic investigation by the Public Prosecutor's Office.

Journalist Jorge Beltrán has been the target of threats on social media since it published investigations into irregularities of the Defense Ministry concerning a military installation converted into an "army hotel."