Tuesday, Oct 03, 2023

Dozens die in custody under El Salvador’s state of exception

Dozens die in custody under El Salvador’s state of exception

Thousands have been arrested since the country suspended certain civil liberties amid a crackdown on gangs.

In the days after 32-year-old Walter Vladimir Sandoval Penate’s March 30 arrest in El Refugio, El Salvador, his mother travelled to the public prosecutor’s office in a desperate search for information. On the fifth day, April 4, a car from a funeral home pulled up behind her as she arrived home.

“The car brought us the news that he had died,” the young man’s father, Saul Sandoval, told Al Jazeera.

Authorities told the family that he had been in the process of being transferred from a jail cell in Ahuachapan to Izalco prison in Sonsonate, but he fainted and died before entering. According to a medical report reviewed by Al Jazeera, the cause of death was “chest trauma”. Photos of the body show deep cuts and bruises on his arms and around his knees.

“If he fainted, our question is: Where did all the injuries that he has come from?” Sandoval asked.

His son is among at least 40 inmates who have died in state custody since El Salvador on March 27 imposed a state of exception suspending certain civil liberties, according to data from Amnesty International shared with Al Jazeera.

More than 40,000 people have since been arrested. Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele called for the emergency measures as part of a crackdown on gangs, following a surge in homicides that left more than 80 people dead in a single March weekend.

Human rights groups say the policy has led to widespread human rights abuses, including deaths in state care as the already overpopulated prison system has extended even further past its breaking point.

“The stories coming out of the prisons are really dire,” Arjun Chaudhuri, a campaigner for Mexico and Central America with Amnesty International, told Al Jazeera. “There is no real access to basic human needs, like food or medical care, and there is also violence being exercised within the prisons. It paints a very bleak picture.”

This is a clear violation of the state’s responsibility to protect the inmates in its care, he added.

People taken to a police detention centre during the state of emergency in San Salvador, June 15

Inhumane tactics

The Salvadoran human rights organisation Cristosal says at least 14 in-custody deaths during the state of exception can be categorised as extrajudicial killings, due to evidence of violence or a lack of medical attention.

In the case of Walter Vladimir Sandoval Penate, witnesses said police beat the young man after he denied being a gang member, according to local media. His father said he had no gang ties.

Later in April, 37-year-old Mauricio Alberto Flores Sorto reportedly died after staff at the Izalco prison did not provide him with necessary medications for hypertension and anxiety. And on May 10, Carlos Wilfredo Sauceda Gonzalez and Sergio Alcides Natividad Calzadilla died in La Esperanza prison after having been beaten, Cristosal found.

El Salvador already had one of the highest imprisonment rates per capita in the world before the state of exception began, second only to the United States, according to the non-profit Prison Policy Initiative. In 2020, El Salvador’s prison system was about 35 percent over its maximum capacity of about 27,000 inmates, according to the World Prison Brief database. And the government’s inhumane prison enforcement tactics, which have included parading barely dressed inmates in front of cameras, had already gained scrutiny from human rights groups.

Overcrowding and poor prison conditions are common throughout Latin America’s prisons, according to Juan Pappier, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch who has been documenting arbitrary detentions during El Salvador’s state of exception.

“El Salvador has among the worst records in the region in terms of prison overcrowding,” Pappier told Al Jazeera. “And the mass arrests conducted during the state of emergency are only making it worse and worse.”

‘Affront to human dignity’

In recent weeks, Amnesty International has documented conditions that Chaudhuri calls an “affront to human dignity”, including rotting food, meals being rationed and shared among inmates, and a lack of hygiene products such as soap and toilet paper. One person who was imprisoned and later released lost 20 kilogrammes in less than three weeks, he said, while medicine and access to doctors have been either non-existent or extremely limited.

Amnesty, which based its findings on interviews with former prisoners and the families of those who died in custody, has also documented a pattern of prison violence, perpetrated by both gangs and authorities. In one case, a 16-year-old boy told Amnesty that gang members regularly beat him; one day, they threw a bag of urine at him. He said prison guards saw all of this, but did nothing.

“What we’ve heard from people who have been released is that gang members are in control of prisons,” Chaudhuri said. “They decide when people eat, when people use the bathrooms, when people shower, all of these decisions – and they also exercise violence over prisoners who have been arbitrarily detained and don’t necessarily form part of any sort of gang structures.”

Current prison conditions seem to be “part of a deliberate state policy of punishing people the state claims are part of gangs”, he added. But Amnesty and other rights groups have documented that many of the Salvadorans arrested are not part of gangs, and have been arbitrarily imprisoned.

Heavily armed security forces in the streets in downtown San Salvador, March 27

In a speech in April shortly after the state of exception began, Bukele threatened to withhold meals for inmates, saying: “I don’t care what the international organisations say. Come and protect our people. Come and take the gang members if they love them so much.” Neither the president’s office nor the country’s prisons bureau responded to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment.

According to Chaudhuri, authorities have not been forthcoming with families about the circumstances of their relatives’ deaths, potentially violating UN rules on prisoner treatment, which require authorities to immediately inform next of kin of a prisoner’s death and to “conduct prompt, impartial and effective investigations into the circumstances and causes”.

For Sandoval, the lack of information from authorities on his son’s case weighs heavily on the family: “We’re still looking for answers,” he said, noting that if they can’t rely on prison authorities, he will continue the search himself. “We want to investigate this case.”


Related Articles

Paper straws found to contain long-lasting and potentially toxic chemicals - study
FTX's Bankman-Fried headed for jail after judge revokes bail
Blackrock gets half a trillion dollar deal to rebuild Ukraine
Israel: Unprecedented Civil Disobedience Looms as IDF Reservists Protest Judiciary Reform
America's First New Nuclear Reactor in Nearly Seven Years Begins Operations
Southeast Asia moves closer to economic unity with new regional payments system
Today Hunter Biden’s best friend and business associate, Devon Archer, testified that Joe Biden met in Georgetown with Russian Moscow Mayor's Wife Yelena Baturina who later paid Hunter Biden $3.5 million in so called “consulting fees”
Singapore Carries Out First Execution of a Woman in Two Decades Amid Capital Punishment Debate
Google testing journalism AI. We are doing it already 2 years, and without Google biased propoganda and manipulated censorship
Unlike illegal imigrants coming by boats - US Citizens Will Need Visa To Travel To Europe in 2024
Musk announces Twitter name and logo change to
The politician and the journalist lost control and started fighting on live broadcast.
The future of sports
Unveiling the Black Hole: The Mysterious Fate of EU's Aid to Ukraine
Farewell to a Music Titan: Tony Bennett, Renowned Jazz and Pop Vocalist, Passes Away at 96
Alarming Behavior Among Florida's Sharks Raises Concerns Over Possible Cocaine Exposure
Transgender Exclusion in Miss Italy Stirs Controversy Amidst Changing Global Beauty Pageant Landscape
Joe Biden admitted, in his own words, that he delivered what he promised in exchange for the $10 million bribe he received from the Ukraine Oil Company.
Swedish Embassy in Baghdad Engulfed in Flames Amidst a Firestorm of Protests
TikTok Takes On Spotify And Apple, Launches Own Music Service
Global Trend: Using Anti-Fake News Laws as Censorship Tools - A Deep Dive into Tunisia's Scenario
Arresting Putin During South African Visit Would Equate to War Declaration, Asserts President Ramaphosa
Hacktivist Collective Anonymous Launches 'Project Disclosure' to Unearth Information on UFOs and ETIs
Typo sends millions of US military emails to Russian ally Mali
Server Arrested For Theft After Refusing To Pay A Table's $100 Restaurant Bill When They Dined & Dashed
The Changing Face of Europe: How Mass Migration is Reshaping the Political Landscape
China Urges EU to Clarify Strategic Partnership Amid Trade Tensions
Europe is boiling: Extreme Weather Conditions Prevail Across the Continent
The Last Pour: Anchor Brewing, America's Pioneer Craft Brewer, Closes After 127 Years
Democracy not: EU's Digital Commissioner Considers Shutting Down Social Media Platforms Amid Social Unrest
Sarah Silverman and Renowned Authors Lodge Copyright Infringement Case Against OpenAI and Meta
Why Do Tech Executives Support Kennedy Jr.?
The New York Times Announces Closure of its Sports Section in Favor of The Athletic
BBC Anchor Huw Edwards Hospitalized Amid Child Sex Abuse Allegations, Family Confirms
Florida Attorney General requests Meta CEO's testimony on company's platforms' alleged facilitation of illicit activities
The Distorted Mirror of actual approval ratings: Examining the True Threat to Democracy Beyond the Persona of Putin
40,000 child slaves in Congo are forced to work in cobalt mines so we can drive electric cars.
A Swift Disappointment: Why Is Taylor Swift Bypassing Canada on Her Global Tour?
Historic Moment: Edgars Rinkevics, EU's First Openly Gay Head of State, Takes Office as Latvia's President
An Ominous Shift in Warfare: Western Powers Risk War Crimes and Violate International Norms with Cluster Bomb Supply to Ukraine
Bye bye democracy, human rights, freedom: French Cops Can Now Secretly Activate Phone Cameras, Microphones And GPS To Spy On Citizens
The Poor Man With Money, Mark Zuckerberg, Unveils Twitter Replica with Heavy-Handed Censorship: A New Low in Innovation?
Unilever Plummets in a $2.5 Billion Free Fall, to begin with: A Reckoning for Misuse of Corporate Power Against National Interest
Beyond the Blame Game: The Need for Nuanced Perspectives on America's Complex Reality
Twitter Targets Meta: A Tangle of Trade Secrets and Copycat Culture
The Double-Edged Sword of AI: AI is linked to layoffs in industry that created it
US Sanctions on China's Chip Industry Backfire, Prompting Self-Inflicted Blowback
Meta Copy Twitter with New App, Threads
The New French Revolution
BlackRock Bitcoin ETF Application Refiled, Naming Coinbase as ‘Surveillance-Sharing’ Partner