More than 30,000 people have been arrested under a “state of exception” in El Salvador, police said, as President Nayib Bukele’s crackdown on armed gangs continues.
Salvadoran police said on Twitter on Monday that 30,506 arrests had been carried out “since the start of the war against the gangs”, including “536 terrorists” who were arrested on Sunday alone.
El Salvador’s Congress approved a “state of exception” in late March after a weekend of gang-related violence left more than 80 people dead, spurring widespread fears among residents in the Central American nation.
The order, under which the authorities have been able to suspend certain civil liberties, was renewed for another 30 days in late April.
Bukele has defended his government’s push against gang members, warning Salvadoran parents to keep their children away from gangs or risk “prison or death”.
But local and international human rights groups, as well as United Nations experts, have raised concerns about reports of the use of excessive force during arrests and amendments to the criminal code that allow authorities to impose increased prison sentences for gang membership.
Under the new rules, convicted gang lords will now be sentenced to 40 to 45 years in jail, compared with six to nine years previously, while other gang members will be sentenced to 20 to 30 years, up from three to five years earlier.
The two main criminal groups in the country, Mara Salvatrucha – more commonly referred to as MS-13 – and Barrio 18, have an estimated 70,000 members between them, and several thousand are already in Salvadoran prisons.
Human rights organisations have said the detentions carried out during the “state of exception” include arbitrary arrests of non-gang members and abuses of authority.
“Over the last 30 days, President Bukele’s government has trampled all over the rights of the Salvadoran people,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, said in a statement on April 25.
“From legal reforms that flout international standards, to mass arbitrary arrests and the ill treatment of detainees, Salvadoran authorities have created a perfect storm of human rights violations, which is now expected to continue with the extension of the emergency decree.”