President Nayib Bukele’s Harassment of Independent Journalists on Twitter · Global Voices Français

Photo by Melissa Vida, with permission

Nayib Bukele came out on top in 2019 thanks to a campaign based on the fight against corruption. However, his presidency has been attacking and defaming independent journalists who expose corruption within his government. Nayib Bukele has been reluctant to give press conferences, instead using social media, especially Twitter, to communicate his decisions and give directions. At the time of writing this article, Bukele’s Twitter account had 4.6 million subscribers. That’s a lot for a country of 6.5 million people. He also uses Twitter to harass journalists and criticize the work of independent media, labeling them as “political activists.” He has blocked some citizens, activists and journalists when he is not happy with comments, memes or questions about his government. In early 2022, investigations revealed that at least 36 freelance journalists were under the surveillance of the Pegasus spyware.

The President continues to attack news media such as El Faro, GatoEncerrado, Revista Factum, and La Prensa Gráfica, particularly for publications that reveal cases of public corruption during the COVID-19 pandemic, secret negotiations of his government to gang leaders to reduce homicides and gain political support, and opacity around the decision to use bitcoin as legal tender. According to a US State Department report, cited in a Reuters Special Report, “Bukele’s government is using paid influencers and likely ‘bot farms’ to tweet pro-government messages ‘ten -ten thousand times’ on a particular topic while covering up their origin to ” create the appearance of genuine grassroots support.” »

The president controls the executive and legislative powers of the state. He dismissed the Attorney General and five judges from the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice. In addition, the new justices of the Supreme Court of Justice, appointed by his political party, approved his participation as a candidate in the 2024 presidential election, while the Salvadoran Constitution expressly prohibits re-election. Thus, Nayib Bukele is building a populist and authoritarian government using propaganda, disinformation campaigns and online attacks against the press and civil society to consolidate his political power and eventually win an unconstitutional re-election. in 2024.

The latest report from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) highlights El Salvador’s jump back 30 positions, constituting “one of the largest declines in the region. RSF points out that Nayib Bukele has played a major role in the deterioration of press freedom conditions, due to his constant attacks on independent journalists and promotion of an anti-press narrative in the country. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) tweeted on January 12, 2022 “Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele and other government officials continue to use anti-press rhetoric to destroy trust in the media and routinely harass independent media, journalists and others critical of his administration. »

Online harassment of women journalists

An emblematic case of online harassment of a Salvadoran female journalist is that of Mariana Belloso, journalist and radio host. In June 2019, Mariana Belloso used her Twitter account comment the Salvadoran President’s plan to reduce criminal gangs. The latter quoted his tweet, added, “A half-told truth is worse than a thousand lies. Then he added another tweet “I am increasingly convinced that there are journalists who want our security plan to fail. Nayib Bukele has repeatedly credited his security plan with lowering the number of homicides, but investigations have shown he negotiated with gangs to reduce the killings, which he denies.

After the President’s tweets, Mariana Belloso received a wave of online sexual threats. These cyberattacks reached Facebook and the comments section of Mariana Belloso’s columns in the daily newspaper. La Prensa Gráfica. She said in an interview that she was known as “the reporter who was attacked by the President and his trolls. After this incident, Mariana Belloso found out that some of her sources refused to talk to her and she suspected that she was being followed ; he even considered leaving El Salvador. The journalist added: [Lorsque] the President singles you out and puts you in a place where everyone can attack you (…) there is no balance of power. »

Karen Fernández, a Salvadoran journalist with Focos TV, told CPJ in November 2019 that she too had been targeted after criticizing the conditions of prisoners arrested under the Bukele security plan. His tweet was quoted by Nayib Bukele without sufficient context and after that hundreds of the President’s followers responded by threatening him with sexual violence and destroying his work. Since that incident, Karen Fernández says her perception of danger has changed — she’s more wary of threats against her and her family.

Other Salvadoran journalists interviewed by CPJ could not cite any studies suggesting that Nayib Bukele controls Twitter accounts that threaten journalists, but his anti-press rhetoric on the platform is clear. This official narrative establishes that all investigative journalistic publications are false and politically motivated to affect the image and reputation of Nayib Bukele. Therefore, his message is that people should not pay attention to the independent media and should only trust the state media and its official communications.

Some allegations refer to Internet attacks and smear campaigns against journalists, particularly female journalists and human rights defenders. More than 60 civil society organizations denounced the worsening human rights situation in El Salvador. They reported at least 370 attacks on social media between February and May 2021, perpetrated by Bukele’s officials or inner circle.

Edison Lanza, former special rapporteur for freedom of expression for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), maintains that being publicly discredited by an elected official, as is the case with President Bukele’s tweets against to journalists, can be very painful. dangerous. Edison Lanza said in an interview with CPJ that this situation is more critical “particularly in Latin America where violence against journalists and impunity are endemic. »

This environment of stigmatization campaigns, hate speech and misogynistic speech against female journalists can lead to physical violence targeting members of some independent media. Also, this anti-press narrative promoted by Nayib Bukele, other officials and supporters of the President aims to silence and intimidate the critical and independent press in El Salvador.

For more articles, please visit the Unfreedom Monitor page.

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