Blinken condemns Salvadoran law limiting gang reporting

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President Nayib Bukele said on Sunday that Salvadoran authorities had arrested more than 9,000 people suspected of involvement in cartel and gang activity in just 15 days as the country quells a spike in violence linked to organized crime. Photo courtesy of Armed Forces of El Salvador/Twitter

April 10 (UPI) — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has condemned an amendment to El Salvador’s legal code criminalizing reporting on certain gang activities.

“The United States government is concerned about the violence in El Salvador and the passage and implementation of the April 5 amendment to the Penal Code by the Legislative Assembly criminalizing reporting of certain gang activities,” he said. Blinken said in a statement.

“The law lends itself to attempts to censor the media, to prevent reporting on corruption and other matters of public interest, and to silence critics of the Salvadoran government. Journalists must have the freedom to do their job without fear of violence, threats or unjust detention.”

Blinken noted that the United States continues to support El Salvador in its efforts to reduce gang prevalence in the country, especially after a series of killings by the MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs in March.

“Gangs pose a threat to the national security of El Salvador and the United States. We urge El Salvador to address this threat while protecting vital civil liberties, including freedom of the press, regularity of process and freedom of expression,” Blinken said. “Now more than ever, extraditing gang leaders is essential to facing justice in the United States.”

Blinken’s comments come after El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly issued a directive, published in an official state publication, on April 5, adding provisions to the country’s legal code.

The new law states that Salvadorans can be sentenced to 15 years in prison for news media that reproduce or transmit messages from criminal groups that “could generate anxiety and panic in the general population.”

The amendments also provide the same penalty for anyone found guilty of creating “text, paintings, designs, drawings, graffiti or any form of visual expression” alluding to “terrorist criminal associations or gangs”. “.

President Nayib Bukele said sunday that Salvadoran authorities have arrested more than 9,000 people suspected of involvement in cartel and gang activity in just 15 days as the country quells a spike in violence linked to organized crime.

Police in El Salvador shared images of suspected cartel members on social media, often stripped of their shirts as they display tattoos with iconography linked to MS-13 and other violent groups .

Last month, El Salvador also declared a state of emergency allowing for the temporary suspension of certain constitutional rights in a bid to tackle soaring gang violence.

The move, requested by Bukele, was approved by 67 of the country’s 64 National Legislative Assembly lawmakers after police reported at least 76 killings over the weekend, he said in a tweet.

The measure identified the constitutional articles that Bukele will be allowed to suspend, as explained in an English translation of the Salvadoran constitution by the University of Richmond in Virginia.

The president, for example, will be allowed to restrict free speech and travel in and out of the country and the police will not be required to obtain court orders to execute warrants for messages and electronic records.

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