Prisoner “arrests” in El Salvador raise further concerns. 


El Salvador’s Usultan: Marcela Alvarado has been visiting several Salvadoran government institutions virtually every day for the past five months to demand the release of her son José Duval Mata Alvarado. 

A 26-year-old tractor driver with three children named Mata Alvarado has been imprisoned since April of last year after being charged with gang membership as a result of an emergency decree that had been implemented across the nation of Central America a month earlier. 

Once a judge granted his release in September, Mata Alvarado was arrested again right away and is still imprisoned today. 


The 51-year-old Alvarado told Al Jazeera that her son was wrongfully charged and has no ties to gangs, adding, “I’m terribly disturbed because they say that there [in prison] they can die.” 

On February 15, lawmakers prolonged the government’s “state of exception,” which suspends some basic liberties like the right to counsel and length limits on pretrial detention, for an additional 11 months. During this time, more than 64,000 Salvadorans have been detained. 

In response to criticism from rights groups, President Nayib Bukele defended the action, claiming it has decreased homicides, extortion, and overt gang activity. Salvadorans said they feel safer now that crime rates have, at least temporarily, dropped. 

The country’s security minister recently added that it would continue until all gang members are apprehended. According to officials, this resulted in at least 10,000 additional arrests. 

A growing number of Salvadorans held under the state of exception, including Mata Alvarado, have reportedly been “re-arrested” after being released on bail or having their charges dismissed, according to the police employees union and human rights organizations. 

Fears have been made that the government intends to keep those currently incarcerated there, especially in the run-up to the elections in February 2024, in which Bukele has declared he will run for re-election in defiance of the nation’s constitution. 

Eduardo Escobar, a lawyer and the head of the Salvadoran NGO Citizen Action, said, “From the outset, we pointed out that it was not so strange to assume that the state of exception could endure until the elections” (Accion Ciudadana). 

According to Escobar, who spoke to Al Jazeera, the 76 percent acceptance rating for the policy among the general public “now confirms” that suspicion. The government has “developed a narrative that it pulled its pants up and got rid of the gangs here,” he claimed. Because it’s their greatest success yet, they cannot resolve the situation now. 

limited releases 

Data on how many cases have reached a verdict, which can often take years in the country’s legal system, has yet to be made available by the Salvadoran government. 

According to the most recent official figures, by mid-January, around 3,745 persons who had been detained during the state of exception but who Bukele has claimed are innocent have been freed. 

Yet since 49,000 people had been detained nationally as of last August, according to government statistics, these tens of thousands of inmates ought to be qualified for a hearing to decide if they may be released from pretrial detention, which is only allowed to last six months. 

According to Hector Carillo, director of the access to justice program at the Foundation for the Study of the Application of Law (FESPAD), a Salvadoran NGO, defense attorneys are breaking under the weight of all their cases. Many of them are unable to request these extraordinary hearings.


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