El Salvador

Report to the Midyear Meeting
April 20-23,2021

Freedom of expression and freedom of the press is experiencing the most serious deterioration in the post-war period - with a government that pressures, threatens and openly expresses contempt for independent media, journalists and institutions.

Officials and personalities linked to the government attack journalists through social networks and government media.

The hate speech towards journalists and independent media is underlined in a tweet written by which he is considered the next president of the Legislative Assembly by the ruling party, Ernesto Castro, in which he tells La Prensa Gráfica: "Now They don't write. They bark ... they no longer do journalism. They spit, "and he concluded with the threat:" You have to treat them for what they are. They will understand soon. "

This official animosity is translating into anonymous death threats, such as those against Bryan Avelarn - journalist from Factum magazine - and Marcela Galeas - columnist from El Diario de Hoy - who denounced threats and harassment through social networks by individuals linked to the government of President Najid Bukele. Following her complaint, the Attorney General's Office began an investigation.

Tatiana Marroquín, an adviser to the FMLN and columnist for El Faro, has also suffered similar attacks. These attacks are a consequence of the hate speech from the Presidential House towards journalists, which creates false licenses for government supporters to attack and threaten them.

The government seeks to silence non-affiliated media and uses advertising to reward or punish. It also withholds information. Journalists from independent media - including El Diario de Hoy and Canal 33 - are excluded from government press conferences.

The Committee for the Protection of Journalists (MPP) denounced 94 cases of restrictions in the first quarter of 2021 - including stigmatizing statements, blocking access to public information, digital harassment, verbal threats, physical aggressions, sexual harassment and threats to life. Among other concerning cases, it points out a methodology to inhibit journalists, which includes taking photographs of journalists' homes, as reported by Yolanda Magaña - from the newspaper El Mundo, and Adriana González - from Teleprensa, Canal 33, abuse of power by public security authorities, and harassment of women journalists.

In a tweet on March 26, President Bukele said that "freedom of expression is a fundamental right that will be guaranteed 100% in our country; but that right also includes us - so we can laugh freely at the ridiculous things that these pamphlets publish."

Angélica Cárcamo - president of the Association of Journalists of El Salvador (APES), said that, in the past, aggressions against journalists "were due to common violence, gang violence, anonymous sources or local governments, but today most of the cases are concentrated in the Executive."

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (RELE) were concerned about the "accusations" and "harassment" against journalists by high-ranking officials. The IACHR has issued a series of precautionary measures, which Bukele's government is obliged to comply with, to safeguard the integrity of the staff of the digital newspaper El Faro - and which also apply to other Salvadoran publications and journalists.

The attacks also come from pro-government media, such as the governmental Diario El Salvador, which accused journalist William Hernández - from El Diario de Hoy - linking him to previous governments. These accusations have the purpose of "softening up" those who are not sympathetic to Bukele's regime.

Congressman-elect Carlos Hermann Bruch - a staunch supporter of the regime - also launched attacks on social networks against journalists Paolo Lüers and Mario González - from El Diario de Hoy.

Government pressure on the "uncomfortable media" - which includes punishment through the suspension of state advertising - has led to the closure of independent investigative and analytical spaces such as Focos - on Canal 33. According to its founders, the cancellation of the program is the result of pressures on the channel to reduce its journalistic content.

The blockade against Canal 33 began a little more than a year ago - when the media decided to go for a more critical and independent journalism. The denunciation of food packages being dropped at a facility shared by the ruling party Cambio Democrático, was the reason for the government to double down its pressure on the media - according to sources within the channel. It then excluded journalists from press conferences - in which questions are reserved only for aligned media.

The government also publicly exposed through its media the columnist of El Diario de Hoy, Paolo Lüers, while he was vaccinated, saying that despite being an opponent, the government vaccinated him. Photographers from El Diario de Hoy were also exposed by being vaccinated.

Bukele's government and its Press Office accredited more than 500 people as "journalists" - many of them are not even journalists - with the purpose of serving the government as a sounding board on social networks.

Prior to the publication of a report denouncing the issue, Bukele's press secretary, Ernesto Sanabria, attacked journalist Hernández - author of the article.

"The stigmatization of the media and incitement to violence against journalists is promoted by government officials - including the president of the Republic, Nayib Bukele, and the press secretary of the Presidential House, Ernesto Sanabria. This practice has the purpose of undermining the credibility of independent journalists, but also makes them targets of stigmatization and incitement to violence," said Serafín Valencia, APES Freedom of Expression Rapporteur.

One of the alleged journalists accredited by the government, Roberto Silva - a youtuber linked to the government - was arrested by the Attorney General's Office on charges of harassing and assaulting congresswoman Karina Sosa and former congressional candidate Daniela Genovez shortly after the elections. Silva is being held in prison while he is prosecuted for the crimes of harassment and expressions of violence against women.

Wendy Hernández - a journalist from the pro-government Canal 10 - was harassed by Jaime Perla Flores - a representative of the ARENA party - at the vote-counting tables. He was arrested, but was released on bail while awaiting trial.

The photojournalist Jessica Orellana - from El Diario de Hoy - was grabbed by the neck and shoved away while taking pictures of Bukele voting in the last election of deputies and councils.

Bukele's government uses the private media - which have been seized by the State - for propaganda and disinformation.

The MPP pointed out that "government media (Canal 10, Radio Nacional and Diario El Salvador) are used for government propaganda and disinformation." The governmental narrative is echoed by at least 20 traditional media - with the support of youtubers and other digital platforms.

The use of caution or confidentiality is the government's practice regarding the country's major issues - among them the vaccination plan and the investment it requires.

The Health Ministry ordered to keep this and other information on pandemic management confidential for three to five years.

The Committee of Monitoring and Citizen Oversight for the Emergency and Economic Recovery Fund denounced the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG), the Ministry of Tourism (Mitur) and the Ministry of Health (Minsal) before the Attorney General's Office - for not providing the required information on pandemic expenditures.

At the same time, the Institute for Access to Public Information (IAIP), has been weakened by recent changes in its structure and procedures, and has among its members an official who was previously a candidate for the ruling party Gran Alianza por la Unidad Nacional (GANA) - when impartiality is required in these positions.

In contrast, Commissioner Liduvina Escobar has denounced that she is being blocked, marginalized and harassed by other IAIP executives for defending positions in favor of transparency and access to public information.