Salvadoran journalists attacked during street protests

New York, July 14, 2006—At least 14 Salvadoran reporters and photographers were attacked or harassed during three days of violent street protests last week in the capital, San Salvador, according to interviews and research by the Committee to Protect Journalists. CPJ today condemned the assaults and urged a thorough investigation.

On July 5, hundreds of students gathered at the University of El Salvador to protest an increase in electric and public transportation fees, according to local and international press reports. Violence erupted after police used tear gas to disperse the crowd, according to press reports. Protesters hurled stones, shot at police, and vandalized patrol cars, The Associated Press reported. Two members of the Salvadoran National Police were killed and 10 were injured.

On July 6 and 7, supporters of the opposition Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN) and local unions joined the protests, blocking San Salvador’s main roads and taking demonstrations to the nearby city of San Martín, the AP said. Protesters wearing red shirts identifying them as FMLN supporters were seen attacking journalists in at least two instances, CPJ research shows. FMLN leaders condemned the violence but said the acts were committed by radical elements outside its party structure.

“We condemn this spiral of attacks against the Salvadoran press,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We urge local authorities to conduct an exhaustive investigation and ensure that all Salvadoran journalists can do their jobs safely.”

In interviews with CPJ, journalists said they were attacked with stones, sticks, and pepper gas. Protesters told some of the journalists that they were being targeted as supposed supporters of the “right-wing” government, the journalists said.

On July 5, reporter Ernesto Landos and cameraman Carlos Durán of the San Salvador-based television station TeleDos suffered bruises and cuts when they were attacked with sticks and stones. The protesters also broke the front window of their vehicle, Landos told CPJ.

Landos said Felipe Ayala, a photographer for the daily El Diario de Hoy, was also attacked as he photographed protesters destroying a car. Attackers punched Ayala, grabbed his camera, and took the memory card, he said. Luis Ever Fernández, a reporter for Channel 6 television, told CPJ that he was also hit by rocks.

Alvaro Castaneda, a photographer for La Prensa Gráfica, said he was photographing a roadblock on July 6 when he was punched in the face. That same day, TeleDos reporter Fidel Toloza said he and cameraman Walter Ramírez were attacked by FMLN supporters on the outskirts of the capital. Ramírez was hit with pepper spray, and Toloza was kicked and beaten with a stick as he tried to help his colleague, Toloza told CPJ.

Félix Amaya, a photographer for La Prensa Gráfica, told CPJ that protesters hurled stones at him on July 7. Julio Rosales, a reporter for Channel 6, told CPJ that the vehicle he was driving was attacked and spray painted that day.

Carlos Henríquez, journalist with La Prensa Gráfica, was also attacked, the local press freedom group Asociación de Periodistas de El Salvador (APES) said. Iván Pérez, reporter for Radio YSUCA, and photographers Borman Mármol and Franklin Rivera (La Prensa Gráfica), and Luis Villalta (El Diario de Hoy) were harassed, according to APES.
Journalists interviewed said they wore visible press credentials and, as a result, believe they were specifically targeted by some protesters. Several journalists said the violence forced them to work in groups.