Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Intimidation of journalists in El Salvador

If there is anything which El Salvador truly needs it is independent and courageous journalists.   But as the Texas Tribune notes in a piece titled El Salvador journalist faces threats from gangs, government, such journalism can provoke official intimidation.   The article describes how one Salvadoran journalist, Jorge Beltran, faced threats of prosecution after publishing an article about gangs which the government did not like:

In late December 2015, he published a map detailing which of San Salvador’s neighborhoods are controlled by the country’s powerful streets gangs, including the Mara Salvatrucha (or MS-13) and the Barrio 18. It was intended as an interactive guide to help people navigate the confusing and treacherous gang boundaries; knowing where not to cross is literally a matter of life and death here. 
But national law enforcement authorities were deeply embarrassed by the notion that they had lost control of huge swaths of San Salvador to the maras, the gangs. A few days after the maps were published, the government fired back. 
Citing laws classifying street gangs as terrorist organizations — and giving authorities wide powers to punish their “collaborators, apologists and financiers” — a top national police commander filed a complaint against Beltran’s newspaper with the attorney general’s office. (The articles were unsigned, but Beltran says the government knew he was the author) 
The alleged charge: advocating terrorism and inciting crimes, violations punishable by up to four years in prison.
The article goes on to note harassment of other journalists from El Faro and RevistaFactum.  As a consequence of this posture of the goernment, the advocacy group Reporters Without Borders dropped El Salvador 13 places from 2015 to 2016 in its World Press Freedom Index:
The media are among the victims of the widespread violence in Salvador, one the world’s most dangerous countries. Several journalists have been murdered or physically attacked in recent years. Freedom of information has lost ground under Salvador Sánchez Cerén, who was elected president in 2014 and who has accused the media of waging a “campaign of psychological terror” against his government. Officials harass and threaten journalists who try to investigate corruption or government finances. The president himself violates the rules on access to information.

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