Crime & Justice

Salvadoran mother pleads for release of jailed sons

By Hugo Sanchez

San Salvador, Jun 24 (EFE).- Mayra Orellana’s hope is that her two sons, arrested under El Salvador’s state of emergency, do not join the list of detainees – 52 at the latest count – who die in custody.

In late March, right-wing President Nayib Bukele seized upon an eruption of violence that saw 87 homicides in three days to persuade congress to grant him special powers to battle the Mara Salvatrucha gang, also known as MS13.

The state of emergency, which has already been extended twice, entails the suspension of constitutional guarantees and thousands of people have been detained without any requirement for warrants or grounds that would stand up to judicial scrutiny.

So far, police have rounded up nearly 42,000 people and Bukele insists that only 1 percent of those arrests were made in “error.”

Mayra’s sons: Juan, 24, and Jose, 22, were taken into custody on June 5 in Iberia, a working-class neighborhood in San Salvador.

“If I wasn’t afraid of the (emergency) regime, it was because they’re good boys,” Mayra tells Efe, adding that Juan was even hopeful that the crackdown on gangs would make it safer to take his musical troupe on a nationwide tour.

Juan Orellana, a business administration student at a state university in the capital, is a combination performer/manager and designs the costumes.

While Mayra’s younger son is a carpenter by trade, he is also involved with the group.

“We are enduring a slow death, because we don’t know how they are being treated,” Mayra says tearfully of her sons, both being held a Izalco prison.

Human rights advocates said that the 52 detainee deaths in custody appear to have been extrajudicial executions.

“For them (the authorities) everyone is criminal,” Mayra says. “No, there are many innocent people, they don’t deserve to be there.”

She recounts a visit to the prison to deliver a parcel of hygiene products for her boys when she saw ambulances leaving every few minutes.

“What I want is that they send them back to me alive, that they arrive walking, that they don’t bring them back to me in boxes,” Mayra says.

Orellana witnessed Jose’s arrest, while Juan’s partner, Ana Arita, was present when he was taken into custody.

Each was arrested on suspicion of membership in an illegal group and in Jose’s case, one of the cops told Mayra that police received an “anonymous call” linking him to a gang.

The government established a special telephone line to report gang members and congress approved a fund of $30 million for rewards.

“Not knowing anything worries us,” Ana Arita tells Efe. “We don’t know if they are in good health, if they need anything, and that is killing us.”

The detainees are not allowed visitors or any communication with their families.

NGOs and the national ombud’s office have received more than 3,000 complaints about human rights violations in connection with the state of emergency, most of them for arbitrary arrest.

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