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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Salvadoran police accuse newspaper of justifying acts of terrorism by showing areas dominated by gangs



If the Attorney General of the Republic of El Salvador accepts a request from the National Police, El Diario de Hoy could become the first media outlet in the country to be investigated for the crime of "justification of acts of terrorism." Those responsible could be sentenced up to 8 years in prison, according to the Special Law against Acts of Terrorism.

The publication made the case public a few days ago when it learned about a document dated Dec. 23, 2015, signed by the Chief of the Deaprtment of Investigations of the National Civil Police (PNC for its acronym in Spanish), Eduardo Hernández Rodríguez, which asks the prosecutor to open a case against the newspaper for "justification of acts of terrorism."

The request originates after the publication of a series of reports that show the territorial control of gangs in San Salvador, the country’s capital. One of the articles, published between Dec. 19 and 23, includes a map of the distribution of power and control of vast areas of the capital by gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio18.

Captura de pantalla de uno de los reportajes publicados por El Diario de Hoy.

According to the document sent to the prosecutor and published by the newspaper and other local media, the articles showed “total control of the capital city” of these groups and magnify their presence "provoking, fear or terror in the population that accesses this type of news at the national and international level, leaving in doubt the work that the Attorney General's Office and the National Police, carried out in the area of preventing and repressing crime" [sic].

The document states that the basis of the petition is the judgment of the Supreme Court of August 2015, which establishes as “terrorist groups, the gangs called Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13 and la Pandilla 18 o Mara 18, and any other gang or criminal organization [...] "

"So far nothing has happened," said Jorge Beltrán Luna, journalist of the newspaper, in conversation with the Knight Center. "No one from the newspaper has been called by the prosecution to make statements.”

However, on Jan. 21, the director of police supported the accusation made by this organization and expressed support for the request to open a case against the newspaper on the grounds that "illegal acts" were committed in the publication of the reports, according to the website ElSalvador.com, the digital version of El Diario de Hoy.

"There was never a commendation of the activities of these gangs," Beltrán said. "The idea is that you know about the control that these groups have through murder and extortion, which are the most serious crimes.” He also said the articles warn about the invisible divisions that could put the population in danger.

The journalist explained that in these reports, the work of the police is never attacked, but they show the reality of the city.

"We know there are efforts, but they aren’t sufficient to wrest control from the gangs in some communities such as the Iberia community that is limiting the capital. A single policeman does not enter there, they have to go with five officers or with special units. If an armed policeman does not enter, how does a citizen move around," Beltran said.

According to Insight Crime, a research center of organized crime, violence in El Salvador began to increase due to the end of the truce between gangs. Based on drug trafficking, human trafficking, extortion, kidnapping and prostitution rings, gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13 and Barrio 18 are not only economically sustained,  but also have control over areas of the country.

However, information on violence and organized crime activities is usually not easily accessible, Beltrán explained. According to the website ElSalvador.com, in recent days, the Institute for Access to Public Information of the country decided that the police must provide "territorial distribution maps of parts of the country that gangs have taken over " which had been requested by the newspaper La Prensa Grafica.

"The point is not whether or not there was justification of terrorism by a series of reports published by El Diario de Hoy; the underlying issue is whether the gangs really have a presence and control in many areas of the country and generate insecurity, distrust and fear or terror among the citizens who daily have to live with crime, with extortion, roberry and theft [...]," said Ricardo Chacón, chief editor of the newspaper, in an editorial.  



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