Crime & Justice

Families urge El Salvador’s high court to free jailed loved ones

San Salvador, May 5 (EFE).- A group of Salvadorans gathered here Thursday outside the Supreme Court building in a bid to secure the release of family members they say have been wrongly jailed under a broad state of emergency.

Members of a dozen families from rural communities in eastern El Salvador’s lower Lempa River valley region arrived in this capital to submit habeas corpus petitions to that high court’s Constitutional Chamber.

One of those family members, Jose Salvador Ruiz, told reporters that these detained individuals are victims who have been unjustifiably detained “simply because they found them on the street” and that no crime has been attributed to them.

Different constitutional rights – including the right to free association and assembly – have been suspended in El Salvador since a state of emergency was imposed in late March by Congress at the request of President Nayib Bukele.

The stated purpose of the measure is to curb gang violence.

Mass arrests have been the main tactic employed by Bukele’s administration during the state of emergency, although it is unclear whether the government is working on a comprehensive, long-term plan to tackle entrenched gang violence.

Five non-governmental organizations say at least 338 complaints about human rights violations were filed during the first month of the state of emergency.

Arbitrary arrests have been the main complaint, accounting for more than 70 percent of the cases some of those NGOs have received.

According to National Civil Police figures, more than 20,000 alleged gang members or people purportedly linked to these gangs have been taken into custody.

Neither the president nor security officials have indicated how many of these detainees were gang members, which gang they belong to and how many are accused of having links to those outfits.

That extraordinary measure was approved on March 27 following a spike in homicides that left 87 people dead in three days; March 26 is now considered the deadliest day in recent Salvadoran history, with 62 individuals slain.

The state of emergency was later extended for another month on April 24.

Attorney Alejandro Diaz, a legal adviser to the families and member of the “Maria Julia Hernandez” legal aid organization, urged the Supreme Court justices to promptly respond to the habeas corpus petitions.

“The (Constitutional Chamber) should respond in an expedited manner, as quickly as possible,” Diaz said. “There are many who are wrongly detained, and the Chamber must … hand down a forceful ruling in favor of these people.”

He added that the petitions contain evidence of violations of basic constitutional rights and proof that these detainees are law-abiding citizens and workers with responsibilities to their communities, Diaz said.

“It’s not fair for these people to continue to be detained because they’re not criminals.”

“We’re very anguished because we don’t know anything about Elias (de Jesus),” Manuel de Jesus Martinez told Efe about his 23-year-old son, who he said was detained on March 26 while talking with some friends.

Martinez said a private attorney he hired found out that Elias is being held at a prison in the western city of Izalco, but that the family has no other information at this time.

Elias works in the agricultural sector and had no links to the gangs, according to his father.

“They don’t listen to us. Since we’re nothing and since we’re poor, it’s impossible to get them to provide any information,” Martinez added.

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