Four gang members convicted of assassinating journalist
On 21st October, four members of the Mara Salvatrucha criminal gang were convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison for their participation in the murder of journalst Nicolás Humberto García. The 23-year-old indigenous community radio journalist was killed in March after refusing to join the criminal gang. García had also refused to give the gang members airtime on his radio station.
Despite this positive decision, a recent report by the Inter-American Press Association highlighted that the authorities have continued to restrict the freedoms of expression and access to public information. This situation was recently illustrated when legislator Ricardo Velásquez Parker threatened a cameraman with Telecorporación Salvadoreña. In a separate development, the Mayor of San Salvador Nayib Bukele is being investigated for allegedly playing a role in a 2015 cyberattack against two media outlets, La Prensa Gráfica and El diario de hoy.
The private sector in El Salvador appears to hold a different view of the current state of freedom of expression in the country. On 27th September, the Executive Director of the National Advertisement Council (Consejo Nacional de Publicidad) described 2016 as a good year for advertisement as a result of the prevailing respect for the freedom of expression, which is at least partly a consequence of the enabling legal framework currently in place.
A step towards strengthening civil society in El Salvador was made with the establishment of the National CSO Council, a civil society initiative aimed at boosting participation by youth, women, indigenous people and LGBTI activists. The National CSO Council is part of a project on Civil Society Participation in the Americas Summit (PASCA), managed by RedLad and aimed at creating a Hemispheric Council of CSOs. According to Adela Lemus, a PASCA representative, the initiative is aimed at unifying efforts, building a common civil society agenda, and making a positive contribution:
'We want the OAS to stop viewing us as the groups that go to the summits to stir up a fuss.'
In September, the Foundation of Studies for Law Implementation (Fundación de Estudios para la Aplicación del Derecho, FESPAD) released a report on the situation of the freedom of association at the grassroots level. The report identified problems linked to lack of municipal regulations, the discretionary character of the CSO registration process, and interference in the autonomy of CSOs. FESPAD's report also highlights that the granting of legal personality to new CSOs is highly dependant on political affiliations, and that CSOs run by opposition leaders face more scrutiny during the registration process.
On 3rd October, an activist from the COMCAVIS Trans Association became the victim of a so-called 'express kidnapping'. The victim, one of COMCAVIS' board members, was attacked at gunpoint and kept prisoner for around two hours before being released unharmed. The organisation condemned the kidnapping as emblematic of the sorts of threats faced by LGBTI activists when pursuing their legitimate human rights work.