salvador manif etat urgence

“I have not been able to talk to my son since his arrest”

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A demonstration took place in the capital of El Salvador on Tuesday to protest against human rights violations committed under the state of emergency, put in place a year ago to try to stem gang violence. This exceptional regime led to the arrest of around 66,000 people, accused by the authorities of belonging to these groups, several thousand of them wrongly. A woman recounts the anguish that has plagued her since her son’s arrest eleven months ago.

On March 27, 2022, the Salvadoran parliament declared a month-long state of emergency, following the murder of 87 people in three days, crimes attributed to gangs. In this Central American country of six million inhabitants, about 70,000 people belong to these groups, of which more than 17,000 were incarcerated before the establishment of this exceptional regime, according to the authorities.

The state of emergency, which allows arrests without a warrant, was later extended twelve times in an attempt to curb gang violence. According to the authorities, it led to the arrest of 66,417 people, whom they suspect of belonging to these groups. This wave of arrests would have allowed the country to record the lowest homicide rate in its history. According to the authorities, more than 96% of the population would approve of their policy.

For a year, the Salvadoran police have published numerous photos of the people they arrest under the state of emergency.

But according to NGOs, lawyers and residents whose relatives have been arrested, this exceptional regime has led to numerous human rights violations, including the arrests of innocent people. At the end of March, the government also announced that 4,304 detainees had been releaseddue to a lack of evidence of their ties to the gangs.

>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS (May 2022): Mass Arrests, Arbitrary Detentions of Innocents: El Salvador’s Method Against Gangs

On Monday 27 March, seven Salvadorian civil society organizations noted that they had listed 4 723 cases of human rights violations over the past year: arbitrary detentions, cruel or degrading treatment, cases of torture, sexual violence, threats, police harassment, lack of fair trial and access to health… According to them, 111 people died in custody. In November, the Minister of Security confirmed 90 deaths.

According to human rights organizations, the authorities do not always notify families when their loved ones die in detention. Some have even reported having found their corpses in mass graves several months after their death.

This situation led families of people detained under the state of emergency to march through the streets of San Salvador, the capital, on Tuesday March 28 to denounce these human rights violations.

Demonstration in San Salvador to denounce the human rights violations committed within the framework of the state of emergency, on March 28.
Demonstration in San Salvador to denounce the human rights violations committed within the framework of the state of emergency, on March 28. © Laura (pseudonym).

“When I bring packages for my son to prison, they only tell me: ‘He’s here'”

Laura (pseudonym) is a Salvadorian whose son was arrested at the end of April 2022. Our editorial staff have been in regular contact with her since the publication of our article in May 2022. She wishes to remain anonymous, for fear of reprisals.

My son was first sent to the La Esperanza penitentiary center, known as “Mariona”. [En août 2022, cette prison avait quatre fois plus de détenus que sa capacité d’accueil, NDLR.] A month later, I received a call informing me that he was very ill, and that he was going to be transferred to another prison, without being told which one. So I went around the prisons to find out where he had been taken, and I discovered that he was in that of Quezaltepeque. But two or three months later, I was told he was gone, when I brought him a package. I then went around the prisons again and realized that he had been sent back to La Esperanza.

The La Esperanza penal center, known as "Mariona"in the north of the capital of El Salvador, in March.
The La Esperanza prison, known as “Mariona”, in the north of the capital of El Salvador, in March. © Laura (pseudonym).

For eleven months, I have had no other information about my son. I never got to chat with him. When I bring packages for him to the prison – three every two months – I’m only told: “He’s here.” I bring her cakes, oats, milk, shampoo, body and clothes soap, a towel, socks, boxers, detergent, medicine, like Ibuprofen – because they don’t give nothing inside – vitamins, a toothbrush, toothpaste… [Selon le Mouvement des victimes du régime (MOVIR), les paquets sont souvent volés dans les prisons, NDLR.] Sometimes you have to queue for a while outside the prison, sometimes you don’t.

Families outside Izalco prison, with packages or looking for information about loved ones, in March. © Movement of Victims of the Regime (MOVIR).

For eleven months, there has been a single hearing concerning him, in August, but the judge did not want to release him. I don’t know when the next one will be, but I have gathered documents to prove his innocence: school diplomas, letters from his boss and his friends, a document showing that he has no criminal record… The day where he will be released from prison, I would like him to leave El Salvador. There’s a lawyer helping me, but she can’t do much.

Lucrecia Landaverdea criminal lawyer who helps families whose loved ones have been detained for free, confirms her difficulties in defending them: “The main problem, under the state of emergency, is that the Public Ministry or the judges block information On the other hand, as soon as there is a hearing, those we defend are released, even if their release is always accompanied by measures replacing detention. [par exemple, signer un document toutes les deux semaines, NDLR].”

>> REVIEW ON THE OBSERVERS (June 2022): Mass arrests in El Salvador: “The right to defense of those detained has been blocked”

“I want the state of emergency to end”

Laura continues:

I pass near the La Esperanza penitentiary center every day: each time, I see people – especially mothers – who look desperate, looking for information. We are all bad. Personally, I have suffered from depression and anxiety for eleven months. Currently, I clean and iron in people’s homes: I can no longer work in my store since my son’s arrest because the police harass me, as they do with all families with imprisoned relatives. I am afraid of the government, the police and the military. I want the state of emergency to end.

The seven civil society organizations that published a communicated March 27 and Movement of Victims of the Regime (MOVIR) are also calling for an end to this exceptional regime. They believe that the state of emergency, supposed to be exceptional, should not become permanent.

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