*This article was updated.
In what journalists and press groups say is an act against the free exercise of journalism in El Salvador, El Faro editor Daniel Lizárraga, of Mexico, has had his temporary work permit denied by the government.
Carlos Dada, director and founder of El Faro, broke the news upon virtually accepting an award for the digital newspaper from Casa América Catalunya, based in Barcelona.
Dada said Lizárraga was invited to work at El Faro and they were processing his work permit.
“Yesterday [July 6] government agents went to his house to tell him that he had five days to leave El Salvador and that his temporary work permit or residence permit has been denied because he has not been able to prove that he is a journalist,” Dada said.
“One of the most prominent journalists in Latin America, has not been able to prove that he is a journalist,” Dada said. “And we consider it, without a doubt, one more form of harassment and attack against us and one more attempt to weaken us.”
Without mentioning Lizárraga or El Faro, Director General of Migration Ricardo Cucalón wrote via Twitter on July 7, "@migracion_sv is the guarantor of the rights of citizens and all foreigners who are within our territory must abide by our laws, otherwise, the same legal body gives us the power to deport them. We will not allow ANYONE to violate our laws." He then proceeded to cite the Constitution and Special Law on Migration and Foreigners.
El Faro noted in an editorial earlier this year that it has been the subject of attacks from the government of President Nayib Bukele since he took office in June 2019.
In one of the most serious events, the Ministry of Finance began an audit of the digital newspaper in July 2020.
In late September 2020, Dada told a special legislative commission that “behind the ‘aggressive attack’ they are being subjected to by the Executive branch, there is an obvious intention to ‘dismantle the rule of law,’” as reported by elsalvador.com at the time. The director said there was a systematic attack against all critical media.
On Sept. 24, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele announced on national television that the Ministry of Finance was attempting to build a money laundering case against El Faro, as the site reported.
In early January 2021, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted precautionary measures to 34 of El Faro’s workers because it said they were “at serious, urgent risk of suffering irreparable harm to their human rights.”
The petition for protection said the workers “are allegedly subjected to harassment, threats, intimidation and stigmatization, mainly through social networks, because of their work as journalists,” the IACHR wrote.
On March 5, El Faro’s claim for protection against the Ministry of Finance was admitted by the Salvadoran Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court.
And in April, El Faro reported that the ministry said it found intentional tax evasion of a total $33,700 from 2017. The site denied it and accused the ministry of following “attack orders” from the Bukele government.
In his home country, Lizárraga has uncovered big corruption scandals, and has faced backlash for it.
He and colleague Irving Huerta were dismissed from MVS radio group in Mexico in March 2015 after being accused of “misuse” when Lizárraga appeared in a promo video for Méxicoleaks. Yet, critics pointed to their role in the investigation “La Casa Blanca de Enrique Peña Nieto” (The White House of Enrique Peña Nieto), which was directed by journalist Carmen Aristegui.
Both national and international organizations and journalists have spoken out in support of Lizárraga.
“Press freedom must be guaranteed in a democratic country,” wrote the Journalists’ Association of El Salvador (APES, for its acronym in Spanish) via Twitter. “The decision to expel renowned journalist @danliza from El Salvador is another action from the government of @nayibbukele to not guarantee journalistic exercise.”
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) urged authorities “to not obstruct the free exercise of journalism.”
*This article was updated to include comments from Migration Director General Ricardo Cucalón.
**Silvia Higuera assisted with this article.