El Salvador Repeals Law Criminalizing Publication of Gang Messages 

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By LatAm Reports Editor

El Salvador’s Congress, in a significant legislative move on Wednesday, scrapped a contentious law that penalized the dissemination of gang-related messages, with leaders of the ruling party proclaiming triumph in their fight against crime syndicates.

President Nayib Bukele’s aggressive campaign against the country’s rampant gangs began early last year, leading to a dramatic drop in crime as incarceration rates soared to become the highest globally.

The now-repealed law targeted individuals for circulating gang-related symbols or any visual representations linked to notorious groups like Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, encompassing graffiti and social media content.

Journalists raised alarms, contending that the law unfairly impinged on their work, especially when reporting involved imagery or narratives associated with gang activities, including interviews and graffiti.

Christian Guevara, a key legislator from Bukele’s New Ideas party and advocate of the original law, found his name on the U.S. “Engel List” of “corrupt and undemocratic actors,” a move highlighting international concern.

Although the law did not lead to any arrests, the Salvadoran journalists’ association APES condemned it as an overt act of media censorship from the outset.

Supporters of the law argued its effectiveness but acknowledged its redundancy in light of their declared victory over gang violence. “We have won the war on gangs and we can change our criminal policy,” declared Walter Coto, a New Ideas party congressman, as the unanimous repeal decision was announced.

Despite Bukele’s soaring domestic approval largely credited to the gang crackdown, human rights organizations have been critical, citing severe due process violations and the mass jailing of over 73,000 alleged gang affiliates.

In response to accusations of human rights abuses and rumored agreements with criminal gangs, President Bukele has consistently denied any wrongdoing and dismissed such reports.