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Case History: Bertha de Leon

Status: 
Intimidation & Threats
About the situation

On 8 June 2016, human rights defenders Mr Pedro José Cruz and Ms Bertha de León were monitored and followed by unidentified men outside the Criminal Court in San Salvador, where they are representing clients in several corruption cases against businessman Mr Enrique Rais López. On the same day, Enrique Rais López's lawyer sued Pedro José Cruz and Bertha de León for defamation. On 2 June 2016, the human rights defenders were meeting with a journalist, when they realised they were being followed and their conversation was being recorded by an unidentified individual. These events are the latest on a series of acts of intimidation and harassment against the lawyers.

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About Bertha de León

Bertha de LeonBertha de León is a human rights lawyer working for the Study Foundation for the Application of the Law ( Fundación de Estudios para la Aplicacion del Derecho – FESPAD). FESPAD is a Salvadoran non-governmental organisation that works for the protection and promotion of human rights through providing legal support. The organisation fights for the promotion of human dignity, freedom and equality, and the development of a more democratic society.

14 June 2016
Intimidation and surveillance of human rights defenders Pedro José Cruz and Bertha de León

On 8 June 2016, human rights defenders Mr Pedro José Cruz and Ms Bertha de León were monitored and followed by unidentified men outside the Criminal Court in San Salvador, where they are representing clients in several corruption cases against businessman Mr Enrique Rais López. On the same day, Enrique Rais López's lawyer sued Pedro José Cruz and Bertha de León for defamation. On 2 June 2016, the human rights defenders were meeting with a journalist, when they realised they were being followed and their conversation was being recorded by an unidentified individual. These events are the latest on a series of acts of intimidation and harassment against the lawyers.

Download the Urgent Appeal

On 8 June 2016, Pedro José Cruz and Bertha de León were at the Criminal Court in San Salvador when they realised they were being monitored and followed by unknown men. The human rights defenders waited several hours and roamed the courthouse building in order to lose and deter the men. Each day that week, public hearings were scheduled at which businessman Enrique Rais Lopez was expected to testify. The human rights defenders are representing clients in the criminal case against Enrique Rais Lopez. On the same day, Enrique Rais López's lawyer, Mr Luis Peña, filed a suit for defamation against Pedro José Cruz and Bertha de León. The human rights defenders asked for a judge to recuse himself in a case against Enrique Rais López where Luis Peña was the opposing council, as the judge and Luis Peña had worked together in the past. The motion was successful and the judge recused himself. Luis Peña is now suggesting that asking the judge to recuse himself is an act of defamation against him personally. The defamation proceedings are an abuse of the judicial system and target the human rights defenders and will involve them in a legal case that will cost them time, effort and resources.

On 2 June 2016, during a meeting with a journalist, the human rights defenders noticed they had been followed and their conversation was being recorded by an unknown man sitting close to them. Pedro José Cruz and Bertha de León also believe the individual was attempting to gain access to their mobile phones and computers through bluetooth.

The human rights lawyers represent the couple Mario Calderón and Claudia Herrera in several corruption suits against businessman Enrique Rais López. The couple's previous lawyer, René Medrano, ultimately resigned after being judicially harassed, detained for three days and having his office ransacked at night by unknown men in 2015. Medrano has left the country with his family as a result of the threats.

Front Line Defenders is gravely concerned by the acts of intimidation and surveillance against human rights defenders Pedro José Cruz and Bertha de León who have taken up the defence of ordinary Salvadorans denouncing corruption.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in El Salvador to:

1. Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the intimidatory acts against Pedro José Cruz and Bertha de León, with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;

2. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Pedro José Cruz and Bertha de León;

3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in El Salvador are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.

26 November 2015
Intimidation, threats and judicial harassment against human rights lawyers Bertha de Leon and Teresa Naves

On 18 November 2015, human rights lawyer Teresa Naves reported that she was being followed by the same unidentified man riding a motorcycle for the twelfth consecutive day.

These incidents follow a preliminary hearing on a criminal case brought by the human rights lawyer against former President Francisco Guillermo Flores Pérez. The other lawyer on the case, Ms Bertha de Leon, has also been subjected to threats and intimidation since this preliminary hearing.

On 18 November 2015 Ms Teresa Naves reported that an unidentified man had been following her since 7 November 2015 and that in some occasions the man would even aim a laser pointer directly to her face in order to further intimidate her.

Prior to that, on 17 November 2015, at approximately 9:30am, the human rights defender received a threatening phone call on her landline number.

Fellow human rights lawyer Bertha de Leon was also subjected to intimidatory acts. The human rights defender was followed and chased by an unidentified vehicle on 10 and 12 November 2015.

Both HRDs have also been victims of judicial harassment. In January 2015, the Prosecutor's Office (Fiscalía) filed an administrative complaint against FESPAD for allegedly disclosing confidential financial information that should be confidential. The General Prosecutor (Físcal General) has also sent letters to FESPAD threatening to bring a criminal complaint against the organisation for disclosing information contained in financial reports by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) of the United Stated Department of Treasury. These reports contain information that supports the case against Francisco Guillermo Flores Pérez.

The human rights lawyers are currently working on the criminal law suit that was brought by FESPAD against former president Francisco Guillermo Flores Pérez. The preliminary hearing took place on 5 and 6 November 2015, immediately before the intimidatory acts against the HRDs started. FESPAD charges Mr Pérez with embezzlement, illicit enrichment and disobedience for having allegedly stolen 15 million US dollars donated by the Government of Taiwan to El Salvador to help the victims of the 2001 earthquakes, and to help fight poverty.