El Salvador Approves Law Criminalizing Gang-Related Messages in Media

El Salvador’s Congress passed a new measure that would punish anyone who spread gang-related messages in the news media with 10 to 15 years in prison, prompting censorship fears.

The new law approved late on April 5 applies to those in “radio, television, written, or digital media” who “reproduce and transmit messages or communications originating or allegedly origination from said criminal groups that could generate anxiety and panic among the general population.”

The law, which is the latest in a series of legislative actions taken against gangs in recent weeks, also targets those who “mark” gang territory in neighborhoods with acronyms.

“When the Germans wanted to eradicate Nazism, they prohibited by law all Nazi symbols, as well as messages, apologies and everything that was aimed at promoting Nazism. Nobody said anything. It was understandable that it was like that. Now we will do that with the gangs,” El Salvador President Nayib Bukele, who requested the measure, said on Twitter.

El Salvador Journalists Association described it as a “gag” reform and a “clear attempt at censorship.”

“Prohibiting journalism from reporting the reality in which thousands of people inhabiting these gang-controlled communities live… will create an illusion that is not faithful to the truth,” the association said.

Amnesty International said the measure was “worrying not only because of its vagueness but also because it would be seeking to intimidate with prison sentences those who courageously and rigorously inform the population about the unfortunate phenomenon of gangs in the country.”

Marcela Pineda, the deputy of the ruling New Ideas party, said that the measure was not “to restrict freedom of expression,” but to force responsibility “in the messages that are disseminated to the population.”

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