Mass arrests in El Salvador: 'Their right to legal defence has been blocked'
More than 35,000 people have been arrested in El Salvador since March 27, when the government declared a state of emergency in an effort to curb gang violence. Authorities have accused those detained of belonging to gangs. But innocent people have also been arbitrarily arrested and their rights have been violated, explains Lucrecia Landaverde, a criminal lawyer, in this week's episode of The Observers.
The Salvadoran Parliament declared a state of emergency on March 27 following the murder of 87 people in three days. The authorities attributed these crimes to "pandillas", or gangs.
Initially planned to last one month, the state of emergency has been extended twice. It is set to last until the end of June.
So far, more than 35,000 people have been arrested after being suspected of gang involvement. But NGOs like Human Rights Watch and Cristosal say that innocent people have also been detained.
On May 9, the authorities acknowledged that 168 of those arrested had no connection with gangs and had been released. But they have not provided any new figures since then.
'They prevent us from accessing their files, from knowing where their court hearings are being held…'
Lucrecia Landaverde is a criminal lawyer who provides pro bono support for families whose loved ones have been detained.
These arrests have been arbitrary and illegal, just to boost the numbers, because the people who were arrested have no association with gangs. Plus, the police and military broke into people's homes or workplaces and arrested them without a warrant.
And moreover, their right to legal defence has been blocked. For example, they prevent us from accessing their files, from knowing where their court hearings are being held … It’s also important to point out that, before, defendants had the right to a hearing within 72 hours after being arrested. Now, due to the state of emergency, this time was extended to up to 15 days in theory.
According to Cristosal and Amnesty International, at least 18 people have died in detention since March 27. The authorities have reported 11 deaths. Those released have reported cases of mistreatment and even torture.
>> For more information, read our full report on the subject: Mass arrests and arbitrary detentions: El Salvador’s war on gangs