LatinNews Daily - 25 July 2023

EL SALVADOR: Freedom of expression under pressure

On 24 July El Salvador’s journalists’ association, Asociación de Periodistas de El Salvador (APES), released a report showing that freedom of expression has suffered a regression in El Salvador.


APES says that since March 2022, when the government led by President Nayib Bukele introduced a rolling state of emergency to fight street gangs, there have been a total of 222 complaints relating to restrictions of freedom of expression, 385 incidents of aggression against journalists, 17 displacements of press workers, and one arbitrary arrest. APES president, Angélica Cárcamo, said attacks on press freedoms were likely much more widespread “because journalists don't want to report things for fear of reprisals against their families”. 

  • The report says hostility towards journalists takes various forms, including intimidation, arbitrary arrests by military and police officers, and threats and insults (often delivered through social media). By its calculations six out of every ten acts of aggression against journalists are perpetuated by the security services and government employees.
  • APES researcher Gabriel Labrador said journalists were particularly vulnerable when covering public events, where members of the security services often force them to delete audio-visual material gathered for reporting purposes, under threat of arrest. Because of threats, a total of 17 journalists have been displaced, five of whom have been forced to leave the country. 
  • The report also highlights a series of legal changes introduced by the government-controlled legislature which “criminalise” reporting. These include up to 15 years’ imprisonment for publishing “any written material” which alludes to “areas of street gang territorial control”.
  • APES highlighted the case of Víctor Barahona, a journalist for TV station Canal 29 and for community radio station Tu Onda Club, whose on-air guests included people who criticised the government. APES said he was held for 11 months’ detention without trial, on unsubstantiated accusations of “illicit association”.

Looking Ahead: With Bukele likely to win re-election next year, the probability of any improvement in press freedoms remains low. According to official data a total of 71,770 people have been arrested without trial since the beginning of state of emergency. The government has admitted that at least 5,000 of them were seized in error. Human rights organisations claim that 5,490 of the total (nearly 8%) have been the “direct victims” of human rights violations, while 174 have died while being held in custody by the security services.

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