At least 18 have died in Salvadoran police custody amid crackdown - Amnesty

  • World
  • Thursday, 02 Jun 2022

FILE PHOTO: Police officers escort a man detained during the state of emergency to La Esperanza prison, in Ayutuxtepeque, El Salvador May 5, 2022. Picture taken May 5, 2022. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) -At least 18 people have died in Salvadoran police custody since the Central American country introduced a controversial state of emergency to combat gangs two months ago, according to an investigation presented Thursday by Amnesty International.

President Nayib Bukele's government declared an emergency regime at the end of March after a historic rise in homicides, limiting constitutional rights and provoking criticism from human rights organizations.

During a speech marking his third year on Wednesday, Bukele assured that his government was on the verge of "winning the war against the gangs" and questioned the countries and international organizations that have accused the government of abuses of authority and human rights violations.

"Whatever they say, whatever they do, whatever they write, they attack again and again, I tell you: They are not going to stop us. We have God and the Salvadoran people on our side," Bukele said.

But London-based Amnesty accused the Salvadoran authorities of committing "massive human rights violations" in the gang crackdown, including arbitrary arrests, violations of due process, torture and mistreatment.

"As of May 28, at least 18 people died under police custody during the state of emergency. Given the precarious prison conditions, there is a well-founded fear that the number of fatalities could increase in the following days," Amnesty said in a statement.

The figures come from the Central American nonprofit organization Cristosal, which said all those who had died had been males. Some had died due to lack of timely medical attention and others had shown signs of suffering aggression, such as bruises, it said.

In its report, Amnesty also pointed to mass hearings of up to 500 detainees.

El Salvador's presidency, the justice and security ministry, the police and the army did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Reuters about the content of Amnesty's report.

In mid-May, Reuters reported that, in the midst of the state of emergency, police forces had detained dozens of innocent people and accused them of belonging to gangs to meet arrest quotas. The report cited five officials.

Since March 27, the police and the army have arrested more than 36,000 people accused of belonging to gangs, including 1,190 minors, according to official figures.

Gangs thrived during El Salvador's civil war of 1979 to 1992, then spread throughout Central America and into part of Mexico.

In El Salvador, authorities estimate that more than 70,000 people make up the Mara Salvatrucha gang, its rival Barrio 18, and smaller gangs.

Multiple surveys show that 70% of Salvadorans support the government's current measures to reduce gang crime.

(Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Writing by Isabel Woodford and Steven Grattan; Editing by Bradley Perrett and Jonathan Oatis)

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