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El Salvador24 July 2007

Journalist accused of “terrorism” conditionally released

Reporters Without Borders welcomes the conditional release yesterday of journalist María Haydee Chicas and three of the other people arrested with her on July 2 under the new anti-terror law.

The worldwide press freedom organisation said however that it regretted that she was still facing proceedings for “acts of terrorism”, a charge which had nothing to do with the incidents which led to her arrest. Although freed, Haydee Chicas cannot change her address nor leave the country and has to report to the court every two weeks until further notice. She is due to appear before the court in October.

The arrest of Haydee Chicas and 13 others took place during a demonstration by residents of Suchitoto Cuscatlán, in the north-east, against the privatisation of water distribution. Salvadoran President, Elías Antonio Saca, had promised to look into her arrest. The other nine are still being held in prison.

13.07.07 - President Antonio Saca promises to look into case of journalist jailed for “terrorism”

Reporters Without Borders welcomed Salvadorian President Elías Antonio Saca’s pledge to intervene personally in the case of journalist María Haydee Chicas arrested and held for alleged “terrorist acts”, in response to a broad-based appeal on her behalf.

The appeal was made by the El Salvador Association of Journalists (Apes), civil society and the worldwide press freedom organisation after the community journalist was arrested with 13 other people by anti-riot police on 2 July during clashes on the fringes of a demonstration against the privatisation of water distribution.

The 14 people arrested were jailed under a new anti-terror law adopted this year, which puts them at risk of 40 years in prison.

During an interview given on 11 July, the head of state said: “Certainly I am going to speak to the minister of Security and Justice to find out about this case. I do not know this case, but I will look it into. I promise to examine it.”

“These comments suggest that the president, while reacting cautiously, is aware of the absurdity of the accusations against María Haydee Chicas and her 13 fellow detainees,” said Reporters Without Borders. “We urge the head of state to resolve this situation as quickly as possible”, it added.

10.07.07 - Woman journalist’s arrest on terrorism charge condemned as violation of constitution

The detention of María Haydee Chicas, a journalist employed by an NGO who was arrested along with 13 other people during a demonstration in the northeastern city of Suchitoto on 2 July and charged with “terrorism” is a “grave abuse of authority,” Reporters Without Borders said today, calling for her immediate release.

The El Salvador Association of Journalists (APES) said in a statement that, “the police committed an arbitrary act by arresting this journalist when she was just performing her journalistic duties.” Chicas is facing as possible sentence of 40 to 60 years in prison under a new anti-terrorism law.

“This is clear violation of free expression,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is ridiculous and dangerous to claim that someone who was just doing their job as a journalist was caught in the act of ‘terrorism.’ We support the APES call for her release and we personally appeal to President Elías Antonio Saca, who as guarantor of the constitution, cannot remain silent in the face of this kind of violation of basic freedoms.”

Chicas went to Suchitoto (in the northeastern province of Cuscatlán) to cover a forum organised by community groups and NGOs in protest against government plans to privatise water distribution. Chicas is in charge of press and communications for the Association of Rural Communities for the Development of El Salvador (CRIPDES), one of the groups that organised the meeting.

Around 100 peasants who were due to participate in the forum blocked off several of Suchitoto’s streets in a show of protest prior to a visit to the town by President Saca. Initially peaceful, the demonstration turned violent and around 25 people were injured when the police intervened.

The police arrested a total 14 people. Five of them, including Chicas, were arrested while they inside a vehicle belonging to CRIPDES. At the moment of her arrest, Chicas had been getting ready to film the scene outside. One of the detainees has since been released.

The arrest of Chicas and the others has sparked an outcry from the press and civil society. Around 100 civil society groups have petitioned for their release. The APES has appealed to human rights ombudsman Oscar Humberto Luna.

A Reuters photographer, Luis Galdámez, was among those injured during the Suchitoto demonstration.

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