Salvadoran women HRDs face online harassment and threats


On 25 June 2019, human rights defender and jurist Bessy Ríos was attacked online following comments on national television. The offensive began after Ríos reacted to a comment from Congressman Guillermo Gallegos, from the governing GANA party, in which he referred to human rights defenders as defenders of gang members. Ríos demanded an end to such attacks on HRDs. That same day, anonymous twitter accounts began a smear campaign against Ríos, associating her with illegal groups and blaming her for criminal acts. She also received death threats. On 15 July 2019, Ríos stated on the television programme "Plataforma" that since the start of Nayib Bukele’s government, women human rights defenders have been faced with attacks when providing opinions critical of government policy. According to Ríos, there are people close to the government who incite attacks against women HRDs.

On 28 June 2019, journalist Karen Fernández, lawyer and human rights defender Claudia Ortiz and economist Julia Martínez were attacked on social media for their opinions on the government’s Territorial Control Plan to improve security in El Salvador. The three women appeared on the programme “República SV”, where they expressed concern about potential implications of the Territorial Control Plan on human rights. A video of Fernández’s comments was published on Twitter and shared by President Nayib Bukele, which further incited hostility against the journalist. She received intimidating messages, insults and threats of sexual violence. Human rights organisation Red Salvadorena de Defensoras de DDHHs urged the president to take responsibility and ask his supporters to cease aggression against the three women.

At the end of June and early July, journalist Maria Belloso faced a backlash for a tweet published on 30 June 2019 commenting on a government policy. President Bukele replied on his own social network, resulting in attacks on Belloso. Public servants allegedly made comments delegitimating Bello’s work, and the journalist received a wave of anonymous messages harassing her online. El Salvador’s National Journalists Association condemned the attacks.

Human rights organisation Frontline Defenders issued a note about this pattern of smear campaigns and harassment against women human rights defenders, stating:

Front Line Defenders remains concerned that instead of condemning these attacks against journalists, government officials encourage them through tweets and offensive remarks. We remain extremely worried that in the case of women journalists, these threats are often accompanied by misogynistic, sexist and degrading remarks. It is particularly worrying when heads of state and public officials make use of their visibility and authority to publicly discredit journalists and human rights defenders and their work, as this generates an adverse and possibly more dangerous climate for those who practice these professions.

On 25 July 2019, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned threats against journalists from investigative journalism website Revista Factum. According to RSF, online intimidation and smear campaigns against the news outlet have been growing. After his election, President Bukele has referred to a number of journalists, including Factum editor Hector Silva Ávalos, as political adversaries. In April 2019, Bukele questioned Factum’s legitimacy in a Twitter message. Such comments have encouraged attacks, insults and threats against Factum and its representatives, particularly on social media. Emmanuel Colombié, head of RSF’s Latin America bureau, expressed support for Factum and added that El Salvador’s new government has a duty to guarantee the protection of journalists and should not, under any circumstances, stigmatise them”.

Peaceful Assembly

On 20 July 2019, police allegedly broke up a peaceful protest organised by the Sindicato de Trabajadores Penitenciarios (Union of Prison Workers - SITRAPEN). The workers had been demonstrating for three days to demand improvements to their working conditions. According to the union, the government sent the National Civil Police to intimidate workers. However, the police claimed that the interruption of the protest was discussed peacefully with demonstrators.