El Salvador


79th IAPA General Assembly, November 9 - 12, 2023, Mexico City, Mexico


Freedom of expression and press freedom, transparency and the right of citizens to access public information continued to be progressively undermined by the government and its entities.

The Association of Journalists of El Salvador (APES) registered 266 aggressions against the practice of journalism within the framework of the regime of exception that limits constitutional and judicial rights.

The most significant aggressions consisted of stigmatizing statements by President Nayib Bukele and officials or allies of the ruling party, as well as cases of judicial harassment and restrictions on journalists.

One of the most significant events was the imprisonment for almost a year of community journalist Víctor Horacio Echeverría Barahona, 55, who was released on May 19 after being jailed on July 7, 2022.

Barahona was arrested after interviewing a leader of informal vendors. He denounced that he suffered psychological torture and did not receive timely medical attention to treat his hypertension, which put him on the verge of death.

Journalists from El Diario de Hoy and other media were threatened with imprisonment, a daily practice of the government to intimidate the press.

On March 31, a team from El Diario de Hoy was detained by a group of soldiers in the La Campanera neighborhood in San Salvador.

On May 31, a group of policemen tried to do the same with another journalist from that media outlet in front of the Apanteos prison in the western part of the country when he was covering the release of prisoners, and another was detained for half an hour after photographing the construction of the new Rosales Hospital in the capital.

In all cases, the uniformed officers took photos of the journalists' documents and credentials without explaining why.

El Diario de Hoy and one of its journalists have been sued for a total of US$10 million in an action brought by a relative of a high-ranking government official for partially reproducing an article in the Mexican magazine Proceso in which the plaintiff is mentioned. The lawsuit continued even though the newspaper published a letter of clarification on two occasions, a right granted by the law of rectification and response.

In journalistic spheres and press freedom organizations, the promotion of this type of lawsuit that seeks to intimidate the media in general through the millions of dollars in compensation being sought and because judges admit them without taking into account laws that protect freedom of the press and Inter-American standards, caused concern in journalistic spheres and press freedom organizations. In 2004, the ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of "Mauricio Herrera Ulloa vs. Costa Rica" acquitted the journalist of responsibility for publishing content from other media, expressing that the sentence against him was disproportionate and violated the right to freedom of expression.

APES also denounced in August a possible criminalization of journalists by President Bukele when he singled out Bryan Avelar, Héctor Silva Ávalos, and Sergio Arauz, director of APES, in an alleged investigation by the State Intelligence Agency against his former advisor, Alejandro Muyshondt.

APES claimed that: "This type of accusation against journalists is one more step towards the consolidation of a police and dictatorial State that, in the face of revelations of corruption, uses all the resources at its disposal to persecute any employee or public official suspected of sharing information that exposes the functioning of the machinery of looting of the public treasury that operates with total impunity in this Government."

The union denounced the departure of nine journalists who have sought refuge in other countries since a law was approved in 2022 that punishes with up to 15 years in prison "any written manifestation" that alludes to "territorial control by gangs.

In July, APES condemned government censorship against the presentation of the book "Liver Substance" by journalist Michelle Recinos at the International Book Fair in Guatemala. The book includes themes of violence, disappearance, and indifference.

The government and its entities keep information on expenditures, management, and destinies of multimillionaire projects of the State closed to the public.

The Directorate of Municipal Works (DOM) is the government institution that has kept the most information in reserve since it began operations in November 2021.

Transparency organizations have repeatedly denounced that the entities classify information without adhering to the parameters of the access law. Among the classified information are the Territorial Control Plan, the administrative files of the Civil Service Commission, and data on weapons and war material. As for environmental news, protected natural areas that are being transferred and their plans will not be released from reserve until between 2025 and 2028.

The Presidency and the ministers reserve their expenses for advertising and marketing consultancies.

The opacity also includes the judicial order to keep secret the process for defamation and slander of the pro-government congressman Christian Guevara against councilman Héctor Silva Hernández, who has requested that the process be open to the public.

Amid so much aggression, threats, and uncertainty, a mission of U.S. government officials who met in September with civil society leaders to learn about human rights and setbacks to freedom of the press was encouraging.

On a positive note, it is important to highlight the repeal of a gag law that had been in place for Salvadoran journalists and that threatened to punish with up to 15 years in prison those who were considered by the authorities to be transmitting gang-related messages.

The Association of Journalists of El Salvador considered that, although it is important that these provisions have been abolished, they should never have been approved.

The threat that hung over them forced 15 journalists to leave for fear of being imprisoned because their reports were considered to be "sending gang messages".

The repeal came shortly after the visit of the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols, who met with representatives of different sectors, including the Human Rights Institute of the Central American University (UCA).