Los Angeles, July 12, 2021 — Salvadoran authorities should reverse their decision to expel Mexican journalist Daniel Lizárraga and allow him to work freely in the country, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On July 6, immigration authorities notified Lizárraga, a Mexican citizen and an editor for the independent Salvadoran news website El Faro, that his work permit had been denied “because he could not prove that he is a journalist,” according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ via phone.
Lizárraga told CPJ he returned to Mexico on July 8 to comply with the country’s immigration laws.
“Salvadoran authorities’ move to deny journalist Daniel Lizárraga’s work permit and force him to leave the country sends a clear signal that critical journalism is on shaky ground in El Salvador,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Lizárraga’s expulsion comes amid escalating anti-press rhetoric from President Nayib Bukele, and shows the lengths the government will go to control and obstruct reporting in the country.”
Lizárraga told CPJ that he believed his expulsion was “not an attack on me but on the media outlet.”
“This is the latest blow against El Faro, of many that have been given before. It is an act of harassment to impede the outlet’s work,” he said.
On July 1, immigration officials interviewed Lizárraga as part of his work permit application and repeatedly asked him if he planned to cover politics in the country, he said, adding that he told the officials that he would continue El Faro’s coverage of newsworthy topics including politics.
Lizárraga told CPJ that he missed a subsequent appointment for his work permit on July 5 because he was quarantining after his lawyer had been exposed to COVID-19.
“I alerted them [immigration authorities] about that situation but they did not care, and on July 6 they came to my house to notify me of the expulsion,” he said.
El Faro published an editorial on July 8 calling the government’s decision “absurd,” and describing the expulsion as politically motivated, saying authorities targeted Lizárraga over his coverage of alleged corruption in the country.
Lizárraga told CPJ he began working for El Faro in January 2021, and was previously a reporter for the Mexico-based news website Aristegui Noticias. He also teaches journalism at the Gabriel García Márquez New Journalism Foundation and the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics in Mexico, he said.
César Castro Fagoaga, president of the Salvadoran Association of Journalists (APES), an independent trade group, told CPJ in a phone interview, “There are a lot of foreign journalists working in El Salvador and we have never seen such an absurd explanation to deny a journalist a work permit.”
Previously, on February 4, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered the Salvadoran government to take necessary measures to guarantee the safety, well-being, and ability to work freely of 34 El Faro staffers, determining that they were “at a serious, urgent risk of irreparable damage to their rights due to threats received for their work.”
CPJ emailed the Salvadoran General Directorate of Migration and Foreign Nationals for comment, but did not receive any response.
President Bukele has previously accused El Faro of money laundering without offering any evidence, and in 2019 authorities banned the outlet from attending press conferences at Bukele’s residence, as CPJ has documented. Previous administrations also targeted the outlet for its work, according to CPJ’s research.