Salvadoran journalist wins International Press Freedom Award from CPJ

By Yenibel Ruiz

Salvadoran investigative journalist Óscar Martínez is one of the four winners of the International Press Freedom Awards from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Martínez, who works for the digital news site El Faro in El Salvador, “reports on gang violence and extrajudicial killings in the country.”

In 2008, he joined the team at El Faro, covering migration in Central America, specifically the migrants crossing through Mexico, according to CPJ.

“For two and a half years, he followed migrants as they traveled north and documented the abuses they suffered, including mass kidnappings, rape, human trafficking and massacre,” CPJ wrote.

Eighteen of his stories written between 2008 and 2009 were published as the book “The migrants that do not matter” (2010). The project also became a photo book and documentary video. Martínez also chronicled migrant journeys in his book “The Beast,” which has attracted international attention and been published in multiple languages. His latest book, “A History of Violence,” documents violence and crime in Central America.

In 2011, Martínez co-founded the Black Room (Sala Negra) at El Faro, which investigates violence in Central America. It’s in this section that the team has published investigations about extrajudicial killings allegedly carried out by the police.

He has received threats because of his work, some of which forced him to temporarily leave the country, according to CPJ.

For example, on July 16, 2014, Martínez was arrested by police with the Anti-Narcotics Division while returning from the field.

“Three 911 agents took off my shirt to see if I had tattoos and kept my hands on my head until two agents from the Anti-Narcotics Division came in balaclava, one with a long gun,” Martínez said at the time, as reported in El Faro.

Also, in August 2015, he received threats on social networks after El Faro published a story about a “brutal beating” that police gave a suspect in a police operation and another about eight people killed by security agents in another police operation.

The 2016 International Press Freedom Award from CPJ also was awarded to Mahmoud Abou Zeid of Egypt, Malini Subramaniam of India and Can Dündar of Turkey.

These four brave journalists have risked their freedom – and their lives – to report to their societies and the global community about critical news events” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon, according to an organization press release. “CPJ is proud to honor these journalists who, in the face of repression and violence, continue to bring us vital news.”

On July 14, Martínez and the other journalists at El Faro were recognized with the Excellence Award from the Gabriel García Márquez Journalism Award.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.