Crime & Justice

Salvadorans demand release of people jailed under state of emergency

San Salvador, Aug 9 (EFE).- Relatives of some of the 49,000 people detained over the last four months under the state of emergency the Salvadoran government enacted with the stated aim of battling gangs held a protest here Tuesday to demand the release of the loved ones.

Hundreds of men, women and children gathered in central San Salvador to call on rightist President Nayib Bukele to put a halt to “arbitrary” arrests, and then marched to the Monument to the Divine Savior of the World.

Cristina de Guevara, whose husband of 25 years has been locked up for two months, said that the “innocents” swept up by police have not been “given the opportunity to demonstrate their innocence.”

“This is unjust and unprecedented,” she said, describing her husband as a “hard-working and responsible man” with no criminal record and no ties to gangs.

“I gave my vote to the president, to his lawmakers and we lament deeply that he is permitting these injustices,” De Guevara said. “I am very much in agreement with all his actions, principally with the arrests of those who really are criminals, but in this case they are taking many innocent people.”

It was in the wake of an eruption of violence in late March that saw 87 homicides in three days that Bukele persuaded congress to grant him special powers to battle the Mara Salvatrucha gang, also known as MS13.

The state of emergency, since extended four times, entails the suspension of constitutional guarantees and allows police to detain people without warrants and in the absence of grounds that would stand up to judicial scrutiny.

The justice minister, Gustavo Villatoro, insists that all of those detained under the emergency regime are gang members, though without providing any detailed information to support the assertion.

And he said Tuesday that more than 42,000 of the detainees have had at least one court hearing while in custody.

The state of emergency is “certain” to be extended for another 30 days, the minister told a television interviewer.

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.

Human rights advocates and Salvadorian media say that more than 52 detainees have died in custody, but the government refuses to confirm or deny those fatalities.

A succession of governments has struggled to subdue MS-13 and the other gangs, which actually originated in Los Angeles among the children of Salvadorans fleeing the country’s 1980-1992 civil war.

Convicted gang members deported back to their homeland from the United States established the gangs on Salvadoran soil, where the number of members is currently estimated at around 70,000 in a nation of 6.48 million inhabitants.

Prior to the state of emergency, according to Bukele, some 16,000 gang members were behind bars. EFE sa/dr

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