El Salvador

Report to the IAPA 77 General Assembly Virtual
October 19-22, 2021

As Nayib Bukele's regime consolidates, abuses, outrages, threats, restrictions and hostility against the media and journalists are on the rise. Bukele has promoted animosity against journalists and media by publishing stigmatizing and groundless messages. "Being a 'journalist' is the new privilege. They can trespass on private property, invade privacy, lie, falsify documents, defame, buy drugs, rape, evade taxes, launder money, violate immigration laws, etc. But if the authorities enforce the law, they activate their privilege.

The aggressions are numerous and committed by police and security personnel - such as the arrest of a media computer specialist, the expulsion of foreign journalists, and the threat of a pro-government congressman to seize the domain elsalvador.com from a digital media.

The political power also tries to economically stifle investigative media and tries to force journalists to reveal their sources of information.

This year the Salvadoran Association of Journalists (APES) registered 193 cases of attacks against journalists - including physical and verbal aggressions, blocking access to public information, restriction of journalistic practice, stigmatizing statements and a defamation lawsuit.

The attacks and restrictions have increased since the May 1 inauguration of the new Legislative Assembly - dominated by Bukele's party: New Ideas (Nuevas Ideas).

On September 1, Mario Gómez - a technology expert close to the media and a critic of the implementation of Bitcoin as a currency in the country - was detained for several hours by agents of the National Civil Police (PNC) without a court order or prosecution by the Attorney General's Office. They wanted to implicate him in alleged financial fraud. He was released as a result of public pressure. Gómez had participated in several activities warning about the risks of the implementation of Bitcoin as a national currency - among them the forum / SPACE, organized by elsalvador.com

Several journalists tried to interview Gómez, but were hampered by PNC agents.

Journalist Jorge Beltrán Luna, from El Diario de Hoy, was slapped on July 7 by PNC deputy Raúl Martínez Velásquez, while covering the recovery of the body of a murdered student in Apopa, north of the capital.

On September 17, Michael Huezo - a photographer for La Prensa Gráfica - was beaten by a security officer of the Legislative Assembly while covering the dismissal of several employees, and threatened with being banned from entering the Assembly.

Days later, PNC agents assaulted and detained a journalist from Diario El Mundo (DEM) and a cameraman from Telecorporación Salvadoreña (TCS), damaging their work equipment.

On July 9, the Department of Immigration and Foreign Affairs (DGME) cancelled the work permit of US journalist Roman Grassier, from El Faro digital newspaper. According to El Faro, the reason given was that Gressier was not in the country and, therefore, "does not have the will to remain and reside in the country."

On July 7, the government denied the working residence permit to Mexican journalist Daniel Lizárraga, on grounds that "his status as a journalist could not be proven."

In June, Gustavo Villatoro - Security Minister - revealed that journalists are being "followed" for their publications related to issues of violence - because freedom of expression "has its limits." "We have freedom of expression, but everything has its limit, and yes, we are following up on many journalists," he said during an interview on a local radio station. He later backtracked and said that it was not a "persecution of journalists."

Several uniformed and plainclothes police officers took photos of reporters and cameramen from different media. APES denounced that it had received complaints against the security personnel of the Legislative Assembly, the Presidential Battalion and sympathizers of the New Ideas party - who photograph and intimidate reporters. On June 4, Angélica Cárcamo - then president of APES - denounced that she found two members of the Armed Forces stationed in front of her house. On May 4, a police patrol remained stationed in front of her house for several hours.

Focos media reported that PNC agents photographed its offices. Two journalists from La Prensa Gráfica have reported that they are watched or followed even by vehicles without license plates. A police officer intimidated and photographed photojournalist Jonatan Funes - of El Diario de Hoy - as he was taking pictures of a cryptocurrency booth in downtown San Salvador. The agent covered his ID number, and tried to retain the journalist's credential and identification document, and warned him that he would "report him" - although he did not say to whom. He then took several photos of him.

Javier Argueta - legal secretary of the Presidential House, threatened to force the media to reveal their sources of information. The incident occurred when the Gatoencerrado digital media revealed that Argueta had met with magistrates of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), before the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) issued the resolution that allows the reelection of President Bukele.

Christian Guevara, leader of the pro-government bench, referred to Adriana González - from Teleprensa de El Salvador - as an "activist," and accused her of publishing biased information. He accused the media of being "malicious and campaigning against the government," because it reproduced a video in which the congressman declares that "no hospital has collapsed" due to Covid-19 patients. Guevara also threatened the expropriation of www.elsalvador.com - a 25-year-old digital media, the first to publish non-stop news on the Internet in the country.

La Prensa Gráfica reported that the New Ideas ruling party is preparing a reform to the Criminal Procedural Code which could restrict or block user accounts, or make use of "digital undercover agents" which could be authorized by the Attorney General's Office (FGR) without a court order. In addition, a judge may determine the restriction or blocking of accounts or profiles of individuals under investigation during a process.

Bukele also attempted to discredit the informative and investigative work of Nelson Rauda - a journalist from El Faro - after he published tweets about the judge investigating the El Mozote massacre.

APES denounced that Walter Araujo - former New Ideas congressional candidate for San Salvador, and included in the United States' "Engel List" - insulted journalist Mariana Belloso in a tweet - after she invited him to listen to her podcast on Bitcoin.

Since the inauguration of the new Legislative Assembly, several journalists have been affected, among them, a journalist from El Faro and the reporter Loida Martínez Avelar from Revista Factum.

Several journalists from Canal 6, Canal 21, Canal 33, FOCOS, Diario El Mundo, El Diario de Hoy, La Prensa Gráfica and Radio YSUCA, were hampered by agents of the Division for the Protection of Important Personalities (PPI) of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ), while they were covering the filing of a lawsuit by several judges against the decree that forces one third of the judiciary to retire.

Oscar Alberto López Jerez - president of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) - denigrated journalist Luis Muñoz, from Teleprensa de El Salvador, when he asked him a question.

President Bukele accused William Gómez - APES director - on Twitter for giving "instructions" on how to burn one of the cryptocurrency ATMs during a massive protest against the government on September 15.

On that day, a group of hooded and unknown protesters threatened journalist Jaime Quintanilla - from La Prensa Gráfica - who tried to approach them after the group burned a motorcycle.

Photographer Wendy Urbina denounced aggressions made through social networks accusing her of burning a Bitcoins booth, in Chivo, and that she was photographed during her coverage of the demonstrations. A group of sympathizers of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front party (FMLN) verbally assaulted reporter Lorena Martínez - from Canal 10's Noticiero El Salvador - while she was covering a demonstration outside a judicial center.

The Government has also withheld information on the handling of the pandemic, the purchase of food during the quarantine, the construction of a new National Library and other works questioned for possible irregularities and corruption. Gatoencerrado magazine determined that 15 government institutions have placed 281 files regarding multi-million-dollar purchases by the State under "reserve."

Investigations into a criminal organization that maintained a clandestine cemetery in the town of Chalchuapa, in the western part of the country, are also being kept under wraps. The group - led by a former policeman - which included ex-military personnel and civilians, held the victims hostage in a house, killed them, and then buried them in the courtyard. Authorities have kept forensic officials and prosecutors from reporting on the case.

In July, the Executive presented the Legislative Assembly with 11 reforms to the Law on Access to Public Information (LAIP). It seeks to classify as secret any information on illicit enrichment of public officials, official traveling or public contract data, lists of advisors in government offices, and salaries of public employees. One of the reforms allows government offices to declare under "reserve" or hide 25 types of information that until now had to be made available to citizens without a specific request. Another reform indicates that there will be penalties for any person who breaches the LAIP - something that until now only applied to civil servants due to its nature as a regulatory institution.

The Treasury Ministry declared reserved the information on public financing received by political parties, referred to as "political debt," - something which was considered illegal by the Acción Ciudadana organization since the law only allows to reserve information in cases of secret military plans and national defense - if it endangers life, if it hampers the investigation of crimes, or if it jeopardizes judicial processes, among other matters

Carlos Amaya - journalist from RTV Izcanal - denounced a two-month ban on access to information by the municipal mayor's office of Nueva Granada, Usulután.

On September 2, a group of soccer fans assaulted two television journalists during a game between the teams of El Salvador and the United States.