El Salvador's state of emergency regime is cracking down on human rights defenders and the media
As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, human rights defenders and journalists in El Salvador have persistently confronted heightened risks due to the prolonged state of emergency declared on 27th March 2022. This state of exception was initially implemented in response to a surge in gang violence within the country.
On August 30th, indigenous rights organisations denounced the persecution of Nahua community leaders. In a public statement made by the Indigenous Committee for the Defense of Natural Resources in Nahuizalco, the Indigenous Unification Movement of Nahuizalco (MUINA), and the Ancestral Council of the Common Territories of Indigenous Peoples (CACTI), it was reported that security forces appeared at the house of one of the community leaders. They requested ID documentation, stating that there was an ongoing investigation, just one day after a protest against a construction project on indigenous land.
The organisations have urged the government to ensure the protection of their rights and to instruct the security forces to respect them. Additionally, they have appealed to civil society to remain vigilant against any potential increase in repression against members of indigenous communities.
In September 2023, civil society reported that environmental leaders in El Salvador have been harassed and arbitrarily detained. Carolina Amaya, a journalist who leads the independent media outlet Mala Yerba, spoke out about her father's case. Benjamin Amaya, an environmental leader, was arbitrarily detained in February 2023. According to Carolina, there are a series of patterns of persecution allegedly exercised by private companies and the government to criminalise peasant leaders who try to stop the dispossession of land in the northern part of the country.
According to UN Experts, more than 67,000 people have been detained under the state of emergency up to May 2023. They “called for the state of emergency to be lifted immediately and for the Government to review the sweeping new powers it has introduced to tackle the country's gang problem.”
According to the 2022 University Observatory of Human Rights (OUHD) report on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, freedom of expression in El Salvador is currently at one of its most critical junctures, further exacerbated by the prolonged state of exception enforced for several months.
Since the start of the current presidential term, there has been a noticeable surge in attacks against journalists. Data provided by the Salvadoran Association of Journalists (APES) covering the period from 2019 to 2021 reveals a cumulative total of 421 documented attacks targeting journalists and information professionals. In 2019, the figure stood at 77; in 2020, it escalated to 125; and by 2021 there had been 219 recorded attacks.
When measured in terms of percentages, the OUDH in 2021 reported that the increase in attacks during that year represented a significant 184% jump in comparison to the figures from 2019. Furthermore, 11 journalists have been forced into exile due to threats from officials or others, accusations of gang affiliations, or baseless criminal charges.
The report noted that legal reforms during the state of emergency and government attacks have led to self-censorship among journalists.
On 13th September, the independent media outlet Hora de Cierre released a report highlighting the precarious state of media sustainability in El Salvador, as it faces unprecedented challenges.
Leaders of media organisations such as El Faro, FOCOS TV and Voz Pública have underscored the extreme difficulty in securing financing for media work. They attribute this difficulty to the private sector's reluctance to invest or advertise, given the government's attacks on critical voices. Instead, private investors tend to favour media outlets that align with the government's position.
#InformeOUDH | Recuerda que ya se encuentra disponible el Informe sobre la libertad de prensa y acceso a la información pública en El Salvador 2022.— OUDH El Salvador (@oudhsv) September 7, 2023
📊Para conocer algunos de los datos que encontramos revisa la siguiente infografía ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/naH7fNpmMW