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Freedom of speech and of the press are protected by article 38 of El Salvador’s Constitution. In March 2020, the Legislative Assembly declared a State of Emergency in all the national territory due to the Covid-19 pandemic and passed a law restricting some constitutional rights, among them the right to freedom of movement applicable to the areas affected by the pandemic. The law specifically does not restrict the freedom of expression and dissemination of thoughts. Both legislative enactments were in force for a month. However, according to news reports, the Government of El Salvador is among those governments that, when declaring a state of emergency to combat the pandemic, have imposed restrictions on the movements of journalists. There have been claims that government attacks against the media have worsened during the pandemic. The Legislative Assembly has created a special commission to investigate digital attacks against journalists.
I. Legislation Regulating Freedom of Speech
Freedom of speech and of the press are constitutionally protected guarantees in El Salvador. Specifically, the Constitution provides that
Everyone can freely express and disseminate their thoughts as long as they do not subvert public order, or harm the morals, honor, or private life of others. The exercise of this right will not be subject to prior examination, censorship or surety; but those who, by making use of it, violate the Laws, will be liable for the crime they commit.
The press is similarly protected. The Constitution states that
In no case may the printing press, its accessories or any other means for the dissemination of thought be sequestered as instruments of crime.
Companies that engage in written, broadcast or televised communications, and other publishing companies may not be subject to confiscation [estatización] or nationalization, either by expropriation or any other procedure. This prohibition is applicable to the stocks or shares [cuotas sociales] of their owners.
The aforementioned companies may not establish different rates or make any other type of discrimination due to the political or religious nature of what is published.
The right to respond is recognized as a protection of the fundamental rights and guarantees of the person.
Public shows [espectáculos públicos] may be subject to censorship in accordance with the Law.
El Salvador promulgated its Law on Access to Public Information in 2011. This Law grants everyone the right to request and receive information generated, managed or held by public institutions and other obligated entities in a timely and truthful manner, without any bias or motivation.
The Printing Law, promulgated in 1950, in harmony with the Constitution’s provisions says that the inhabitants of El Salvador have the right to print and publish their thoughts in the press, without prior examination, censorship or surety; but they will be held accountable to a jury for a common crime that they commit when exercising this right.
II. Censorship During the Covid-19 Pandemic
By Decree No. 593, the Legislative Assembly declared the State of Emergency throughout the national territory due to the Covid-19 pandemic, for a period of 30 days, which entered into force on the day of its official publication, March 14, 2020.
The Legislative Assembly by Decree No. 611 decreed the Law of Temporary Restriction of Concrete Constitutional Rights to Address the Covid-19 Pandemic, which entered into force on the date of its official publication, March 29, 2020. Its validity expired on April 13. The decree stated that restriction of the right to freedom of movement would apply in specific cases and with specific reference to the areas affected by the pandemic. The Decree also restricted the right to assemble peacefully and without arms for any lawful object in response to the pandemic.
Decree No. 611 specifically provided that
[I]t does not restrict freedom of expression, freedom of dissemination of thought, the right of association, the inviolability of correspondence, nor does it authorize the interference or intervention in telecommunications, as well as any other right or fundamental freedom not contemplated in these provisions, or other categories established in international Human Rights instruments not related to the care and control of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, in a resolution on the Covid-19 pandemic, the Inter-American Press Society (IAPA) included El Salvador among the governments that, when “declaring states of exception to combat the spread of the pandemic, have imposed restrictions on the movements of journalists contravening constitutional principles on freedom of the press.”
According to a news report dated August 7, 2020, the IAPA issued a statement denouncing “the increase in government attacks, the tension with the Presidency, the selective blocking of public information and the use of pro-government net-centers to denigrate the critical and independent press.” The IAPA said the attacks on the media have worsened in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A statement issued by the Association of Journalists of El Salvador (APES), dated August 17, 2020, declared that Salvadoran journalism faces a critical situation in which the rights to conduct journalism, freedom of expression, and access to information have been affected. According to APES’s monitoring center, 65 violations were reported from March 17 to July 30, 2020, most of them concerning restrictions on journalism and access to public information and a considerable increase in digital attacks focused on female journalists.
APES’s statement also observed that the Legislative Assembly created a special commission to investigate digital attacks against journalists. Such digital attacks have been denounced by numerous organizations and entities, including journalist unions, the Office of the Attorney for the Defense of Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’s Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, the International Federation of Journalists, and others. APES welcomed the creation of this legislative commission, and urged it to resume the study of draft legislation known as the Law for the Comprehensive Protection of Journalists, Communicators and Information Workers.
Prepared by Norma C. Gutiérrez
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
 Id. arts. 1, 5.
 Id. art. 7.
 This commission was announced at Legisladores acuerdan crear Comisión Especial que investigue, entre otras cosas, acoso a periodistas salvadoreños, La Asamblea Legislativa de la República de El Salvador, Aug. 12, 2020, https://perma.cc/X7HP-CFBC.
 Asociación de Periodistas de El Salvador, supra note 11.
Last Updated: 12/30/2020