University of Minnesota

Report on the Situation of Human Rights in El Salvador, Inter-Am. C.H.R., OEA/Ser.L/V/II.46, Doc. 23 rev. 1 (1978).





American Declaration

Article III:

Every person has the right freely to profess a religious faith, and to manifest and practice it both in public and in private. [1]/

Article IV:

Every person has the right to freedom of investigation, of opinion, and of the expression and dissemination of ideas, by any medium whatsoever. [2]/

A. Constitutional Provisions

1. Article 158 of the Constitution, first paragraph, and provides that: “Every person may freely express and disseminate his thoughts provided they are not injurious to morals or to the private lives of persons. The exercise of this right shall not be subject to previous examination, censorship, or bond; but anyone who violates the law thereby shall be liable for the offense committed.”

2. In Article 157, “The free exercise of all religions, without other restrictions than that required by morals or the public order, is guaranteed.”

3. In Article 158, fourth paragraph, of the Constitution, it is established as an express prohibition that: “In no event may the press, its accessories, or any other material means devoted to the dissemination of thought be confiscated as an instrument of crime.”

4. The second paragraph of Article 157 of the Constitution provides that: “Neither the clergy nor laymen may engage in political propaganda of any kind based on religious motives or making use of the religious beliefs of the people. Likewise, the laws of the state, its government, or public officials may not be criticized in religious rights or sermons in places of worship”

5. In Article 158, second paragraph, it is established that “Propaganda advocating anarchistic or anti-democratic doctrines is prohibited”. Also, in the last paragraph of Article 160, “The functioning of international or foreign political organizations is likewise prohibited, excepting those which by democratic means advocate Central American union or hemispheric or universal cooperation on a basis of fraternity.”

6. There follows part of the articles of the Law of Defense and Guaranty of Public Order (Decree No. 407), the interpretation and application of which might hinder the observance of freedom of expression and of information, as will be explained farther on.




“Article 1. Totalitarian doctrines are contrary to the democratic system established by the Constitution and those who commit the following acts in order to instill and support such doctrines commit an offense against the constitutional public order:


“2. Those who by the spoken or written word, or by any other means, induce one or more members of the Armed Forces to violate discipline or to disobey their superiors or the constituted Powers of the Government of the Republic;


“7. Those who propagate, encourage, or use their personal status or circumstances, either by the spoken or written word or by any means, doctrines aimed at destroying the social order, or the political and juridical organization that the Constitution establishes.


“15. Those who propagate by the spoken or written word, or by any other means within the country, or send abroad, tendentious or false news or information designed to disrupt the constitutional or legal order, the tranquility or security of the country, the economic or monetary system, or the stability of public values and property; those who publish such news and information in the mass communication media; and those citizens of El Salvador who, while abroad, disseminate news and information of that kind;

To determine whether these crimes have been committed in order to implant or support totalitarian doctrines, the following factors shall be taken into account:

c. The fact of having claimed to have participated in the crime, through any means of communications;

d. The unequivocal and express public demonstrations of the connection of the events to the objectives of such doctrines. Consisting of manifestoes, phrases, words, letters, signs, or acronyms of the names of clandestine groups, and figures or emblems of all other kinds that may appear before, at the same time as, or subsequent to perpetration of the crime.”

7. In the following articles of Decree 407 (2 through 6) the penalties or sanctions are established—as well as the way to determine them—applicable to the offenses contemplated in the various subparagraphs of its Article 1, and it is provided at the end of Article 6 that: “Anyone found guilty of committing an offense referred to in this law may not be released from jail prior to completion of his sentence”; and in Article 7 it is added that: “When any of the offenses provided for in this law appears in another law carrying a heavier sentence, the courts shall be obligated to apply the heavier sentence.”

B. Expressions of this Freedom in Practice

8. At present, the greatest restriction on the freedom of the press and information is the fact that the law on Defense and Guaranty of Public Order is in force, when it defines as an offense, in such vague terms, the action of those who “propagate by the spoken or written word, or by any other means within the country, or send abroad, tendentious, .. News or information designed to disrupt the constitutional or legal order..; those who publish such news and information in mass communication media; and those citizens of El Salvador who, while abroad, disseminate news and information of that kind.” It is necessary to point out that the practical result of these standards is the imposition, in practice, of self-censorship.

9. Thus, for example, those who make such criticisms assert that the aforementioned is true, especially with respect to freedom of the press through the various media of dissemination; of the practice of their ministry by the priests and laymen connected in particular with the social action works conducted in the country by the Catholic Church; of the activities of propaganda, proselytizing, organization, orientation, and direction by trade unions leaders—especially in the campesino sector; as well as the actions of the executive boards of political parties, professional associations, student sectors, and particularly the various pressure groups considered as in the “opposition.”

10. The Salvadoran trade union leaders, during interviews with members of the Special Committee, complained that the national mass media, once the Law of Defense and Guaranty of Public Order came into force, refused to accept their press releases—even as paid announcements—and when they were accepted, it was done only on conditions of prior censorship, also said that this forced them to disseminate their communiqués and reports through pamphlets and fliers, causing great difficulties and problems, as many of their members who has circulated them have been arrested and subsequently accused of distributing literature.

11. The Special Committee received complaints about censorship or threats to the press such as threats by government’s authorities—although not carried out—of closing the periodical of the Salvadorian Catholic diocese, “Orientación,” and it s radio station, “YSAX,” unless they submitted to strict censorship, and the closing during the State of Siege, on March 3, 1977, of the newspaper “La Crónica,” an influential paper of small circulation respected by Salvadorian public opinion. When the State of Siege was lifted (July 1977), the closing of “La Crónica” was lifted, and it has been published since then, This newspaper has protested editorially against the restrictions imposed on the freedom of the press through the effect of Section 15 of Article 1 of Decree No. 407.

12. Both in the Introduction to this report and in the preceding chapter, reference were made to the conflict that arose between the Government and the Catholic Church. In this chapter of freedom of expression and information, it is appropriate to point out, in addition to what has been said about the periodical “Orientation” and the radio station “YSAX” both of Catholic Church, that a denunciation was also made to the Special Committee of a dynamite attack that destroyed the Church press, as well as of five dynamite attacks that damaged the Universidad “José Simeón Cañaz” of the Jesuit Fathers.

13. Also denounced to the Special Committee were a number of attacks on various priest and laymen for the purpose of restraining them in the free dissemination of the social doctrine of the Church, particularly with respect to works of socio-economic promotion of campesinos. According to denunciations, the threats escalated to more serious violations of human rights, such as the murder of the priest Rutilio Grande García and Alfonso Navarro Oviedo [3]/; the imprisonment and torture of the priests Rafael Barahona, Antonio Vidas, Guillermo Denoux, Víctor Guevara, Gonzalo López, and Jorge Sarsanedas, and the expulsion form the national territory of the priests José Luis Ortega, Jorge Sarsanedas, Salvador Carranza, Marcelino Pérez, Juan Murphy, Bernardo Survil, Mario Bernal, and Guillermo Denoux. According to the denunciations and other information in the hands of the special Committee, the ones most often attacked have been the Catholic priests, and within that group, the community of the Jesuit Fathers, because of their participation in the organization and orientation of social apostle-ship and action.

14. The Special Committee was informed that at present, in El Salvador, by virtue of the constitutional limitations already mentioned in this Chapter, and particularly since Decree 407 came into force, the priest have been obliged to limit themselves in the expression of their thoughts and the dissemination for their ideas in sermons or public statements.

15. In the introduction to this report reference was made to the interviews that the Special Committee held with representatives of other churches. In this chapter it is appropriate to note that in the interviews those representatives did not allege violations of their freedoms of expression and of information, adding that they were able to practice their religion. Likewise, those representatives added that their mission was evangelical. Moreover, in the visit that the Special Committee paid to the Rabbi of San Salvador, he stated that the small Hebrew community in El Salvador never had difficulties of any kind with the Salvadorian authorities, adding that personally he has not known of persecutions against other creeds.




[1] /36 American Convention on Human Rights

Article 12. Freedom of conscience and religion

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience and of religion. This right includes freedom to maintain or to change one’s religion or beliefs, and freedom to profess or disseminate one’s religious or beliefs.

2. No one shall be subject to restrictions that might impair his freedom to maintain or to change his religion or beliefs.

3. Freedom to manifest one’s religion and beliefs may be subject only to the limitations prescribed by law that are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals, or the rights or freedoms of others.

[2] Article 13. Freedom of Thought and Expression

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression. This right includes freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, in print, in the form of art, or through any other medium of one’s choice.

2. The exercise of the right provided for in the foregoing paragraph shall not be subject to prior censorship but shall be subject to subsequent imposition of liability, which shall be expressly established by law to the extent necessary to ensure:

a. Respect for the rights or reputations of others; or

b. The protection of national security, public order, or public health or morals.

3. The right of expression may not be restricted by indirect methods or means; such as the abuse of government or private controls over newsprint, radio-broadcasting frequencies, or equipment used in the dissemination of information. Or by any other means tending to impede the communication and circulation of ideas and opinions.

4. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 2 above, public entertainment may be subject by law to prior censorship for the sole purpose of regulating access to them for the moral protection of childhood and adolescence.

5. Any propaganda for war and any advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred. That constitutes incitements to lawless violence or to any other similar illegal action against any person or group of persons on any grounds including those of race, color, religion, language, or national origin shall be considered as offenses punishable by law.

[3] See Chapter II, p. 50


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