Salvadoran Congress Issues Decree Restricting The Right To Protest
On October 20, the ruling party with a majority in El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly approved an initiative entitled "Special and transitory provisions for the suspension of concentrations and public or private events,” which empowers the Attorney General and the National Civil Police (PNC) to take action against people who convene, promote, or organize rallies–under the pretext of containing the COVID-19 virus.
The decree was approved amid a recent increase in demonstrations against the Bukele administration that have mobilized thousands of people to denounce the government's anti-popular policies and to call for action against the consolidation of a dictatorship.
In this context, a representative from the Popular Resistance Bloc (BRP) explained to CISPES that what lies behind these measures is “the intent to prohibit street actions, specifically denunciations against the government," since the decree gives the Ministry of Health discretion to impose restrictions on those activities while exempting cultural and sporting events.
For example, San Salvador's largest sports stadium has recently hosted international soccer matches to sell-out crowds of up to 35K people, without requiring proof of vaccination, masks, social distancing, or any other recommended public health measures.
The decree, which was fast-tracked and approved without debate, will be in force until December 8, 2021. Human rights defenders and social movement organizations highlight the following as the aspects that generate the greatest alarm:
- The possibility is that the Ministry of Health will ban street activities and impose criminal charges for "disobedience of individuals,” which could carry penalties of one to three years (Art. 2 and Art. 4).
- The threat of retroactive application of the measures (Art. 21 Cn), given that they are regarding “public order” (Art. 5), which gives the Attorney General authority ex officio to investigate and criminally sanction social movement organizers who have convoked the demonstrations
- The granting of authority to the National Civil Police (Art. 1) to suspend activities or prohibit people from participating in them.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Salvadoran government (like many governments around the world) has used the COVID-19 pandemic to justify everything from illegal and arbitrary detentions during the lockdown to the militarization of the borders and border communities, meanwhile promoting other large-scale public events such as the launch of Surf City competitions and Independence Day festivities, among others.