This week, The office of El Salvador President Nayib Bukele released harrowing photos showing the brutal conditions hundreds of prisoners have been put in — stripped and stacked together after several days of violence leading to more than 20 deaths in the country.
The President of El Salvador has ordered a 24-hour lockdown amid fears that these murders were committed on the behest of jailed gang leaders. This is the highest number of murders in one day since President Nayib Bukele took office.
The photos were released to try and intimidate or humiliate the captives after intelligence warned the deaths outside of prisons had been ordered by imprisoned gang leaders. But human rights groups fear for the prisoners.
The El Salvador security forces have been asked to take lethal measures against the gang members and a state of emergency has been declared in the jails. The President tweeted “No contact with the outside world. Shops will remain closed and all activities are suspended until further notice.”
Ignoring social distancing recommendations, Izalco prison inmates were crammed tightly in the jail yard with some wearing masks as the jailors searched their cells for evidence. The gang leaders were sent into solitary confinement. The government also put members of rival gangs in the same prison cell to cut off lines of communication between the groups and searched 5 prisons.
The President said that the prisoners were taking advantage of the police who were busy enforcing the lockdown in the country instead of battling the crimes in the country. He added that lethal force can be used against those who endanger the citizens of the country.
“The maximum emergency in all the penal centers where gang members are found seeks to determine the origin of the homicide orders perpetrated in the country. The criminal Izalco [prison] is one of the venues where @CentrosPenales and the @PNCSV carry out searches,” the office of Bukele tweeted.”The use of lethal force is authorized for self-defense or for the defense of the lives of Salvadorans.”
El Presidente @Nayibbukele ordenó a @CentrosPenales el encierro absoluto de los pandilleros reclusos durante 24 horas, mientras se realizan los operativos policiales. Ésto como parte de las medidas de emergencia implementadas por la reciente alza de los homicidios. pic.twitter.com/8LNuzUIU3Y
— Secretaría de Prensa de la Presidencia (@SecPrensaSV) April 25, 2020
The country’s General Director of Penal Centers Osiris Luna Meza tweeted, “Not a single ray of sunlight is going to enter any cell, more practical and harsh measures have been established, this is necessary to stop this wave of homicides that have happened these days.”
No va a entrar ni un rayo de sol a ninguna celda, se han establecido medidas más prácticas y duras, esto es necesario para detener esta ola de homicidios que han sucedido estos días. pic.twitter.com/9PXxGL6MPR
— Osiris Luna Meza (@OsirisLunaMeza) April 27, 2020
Nayib Bukele tweeted videos of prison cells being boarded up to stop inmates from conversing with each other and so that the gang members would not see a day of sunlight. He warned the gangsters will regret for the rest of their lives having made the decision to order the murders.
Erika Guevara, Amnesty International’s director for the Americas, told Reuters: “We view these photos taken of people deprived of their liberty in the prisons with great concern, they are scenes where people are brought together in prison yards in a humiliating, demeaning manner.”
The human rights violations against prisoners due to these steps are not being investigated.
El Salvador has someone of the strictest lockdown measures and has been doing well in combating the virus. It has tested over 20,000 people and has had 323 cases and 8 deaths only. The country began the lockdown on March 22 and now breaking of the lockdown is illegal and punishable by imprisonment.
In many Latin American prisons, the jails are overcrowded and are the perfect breading spot for the virus. Social distancing measures here are poor and with poor medical facilities, an outbreak here could have devastating effects.
In Chile, the Puente Alto prison in Santiago has had the largest outbreak so far, with more than 300 reported cases. The prison’s 1,100 inmates are in serious danger of contracting the virus. Prisoners need to be released if the countries want a fighting chance to win against the virus that is sweeping the world. The fear of the virus has lead to jailbreaks, riots, and strikes across Latin America.
This Al Jazeera report highlights the situation of prisons in Latin America and the state of the prisoners in various countries.