Vice President of El Salvador denies that reforms to the Penal Code censor the press

San Salvador.- The Vice President of El Salvador, Félix Ulloa, denied in an interview with an American media that a reform of the Penal Code What a penalty of up to 15 years in prison “any expression” that refers to the “territorial control” of the gangs be a press censorship.

In the interview broadcast this Friday, Ulloa told the voice of america that “it is not censorship, it is to fight criminal acts that are reproduced by means not only of the press”.

Ulloa added that what has been emitted in the Congress, of pro-government majority, is a “general norm, in which an attempt is being made to combat this communication mechanismof promotion and defense of the crime”.

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Without citing examples or providing evidence, Ulloa pointed out that “there is a way to stimulate the incorporation of young people into gangs with some type of communication that occurs in the media.”

In another part of the interview, he indicated that “the provision does not mention the written, television, or private media.”

“Freedom of the press is not affected, what is sanctioned are the messages that have the purpose of disseminating the messages of the gangs or making an apology,” added the vice president.

He stated, again without indicating evidence, that “there are some media that have made an industry of working with gangs” and “that is what some fear, that now they will no longer be able to continue exploiting that type of business.”

However, he said that the penalties indicated can be applied against journalists.

“If the headline of a newspaper puts a note that it took from a wila (message in code from the gangs) and from the wila a subliminal message was being given, of course the law is going to apply to it,” said Ulloa.

He added: “But the newspapers, the television media, the press, the radio, of any other type that do not violate the law do not have to fear it.”

The Legislative Assembly approved on Tuesday a reform to the Penal Code that dictates sentences of 10 to 15 years in prison for “any type of written statement that alludes to the different criminal terrorist groups or associations of maras or gangs.”

It adds that “especially those whose purpose is to allude to territorial control of said groups or to transmit threats to the population in general.”

The rapporteur for freedom of expression of the Association of Journalists of El Salvador (APES), Serafín Valencia, said on Wednesday that the amendment is contrary to the Constitution, as it represents “prior censorship”, prohibited in the Magna Carta.

Erika Guevara Rosas, director for the Americas of Amnesty International (AI), recently considered that the reform “seeks to silence the independent media.”

El Salvador is under an exceptional regime after a wave of murders at the end of March and, in addition to this extraordinary measure, Congress approved, at the proposal of President Nayib Bukele, the toughening of sentences for gang members and endorsed trying adolescents as adults.

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The gangs, a phenomenon considered to be a legacy of the Salvadoran civil war (1980-1992) and which was strengthened by the deportation of gang members from the United States, have resisted the security plans implemented in the last four administrations and generated spikes in violence through through the years.

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